A few years back, depression knocked me off my feet and left me in a constant state of free fall, but in slow motion. I couldn’t grab on to something long enough to make it stop. I fully knew what was happening, but I was too numb to do anything about it. That’s when I happened to stumble upon cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In essence, CBT is meant to help you rewire your thinking or behavioural patterns in a short-term and goal-oriented manner. I know therapy isn’t the most accessible outlet due to its pricey nature, but don’t let that deter you. A lot of psychologists offer sliding scale options for their patients. Whether you’re interested in trying this type of therapy or have already gone through it yourself and looking to recommend it to someone in your life, I’m here to offer my five takeaways from CBT.
You Get What You Put In
CBT is heavily rooted in homework exercises that are meant to be completed outside of the therapy room. Believe it or not, the homework was actually my favourite part of CBT because I got to be autonomous with my healing and I always had something to look forward to for the next session. From lists, to worksheets, to journal entries, I was able to track my progress and refer back to what I had learned throughout my CBT experience. As you find yourself further in the CBT process, you’ll begin to do the homework in your head, and you’ll be able notice your thinking and behavioral patterns rewiring themselves in real time. However, to get to that point, you’ll need to be committed to putting in the work to get better.
Cognitive Distortions Come in Many Shapes and Sizes
My psychologist called cognitive distortions mind traps. Mind traps are essentially what you’re trying to rewire in CBT. She gave me this worksheet and asked me to identify which mind traps I fall into on the regular. For me, labelling, minimisation, and mind reading were my main mind traps. What I learned through CBT is that these ways of thinking can be changed simply by knowing they exist and wanting to do something about it. Identifying mind traps is half the battle, and it’s important to note that they manifest themselves in different ways depending on the person. To this day, I still carry my wrinkled, torn up worksheet with me and use it as a tool while I actively listen to my friends’ venting.
Practice Makes Perfect
You won’t be better overnight—we all know this, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy pill to swallow. If you consistently go to CBT and practice the tools you’ve been given in real life scenarios, it’ll become second nature to you. If you’ve been stuck in a certain thinking or behavioural style that’s not necessarily productive for your well-being, it’s natural to feel like this process of unlearning is a time commitment. My best piece of advice would be to stick with it. It’ll be worth it in the end—you just have to trust the process.
Listen to Yourself
At one point in your CBT journey, you’ll know when you’ve had enough. Listen to yourself when this time comes. You have to remember that CBT is a short-term and goal-oriented form of therapy. Although experts suggest taking five to ten months for most emotional problems, only you’ll know when the end is calling your name. When that time comes, I suggest you talk to your psychologist about it and come up with an exit strategy. It might seem daunting at first, sort of like taking your training wheels off. However, once you take that step, you’ll feel liberated and confident in your newfound tools. Use them as often as you can and remember that your psychologist is always a call away.
It’s Not for Everyone
CBT isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. I think there’s a big benefit in trying CBT to help you understand what type of therapy works best for you. There are many approaches to therapy, so if CBT isn’t working, it would probably be best to consider a different kind of therapy. In addition, liking your psychologist is a very important part of CBT—or any type of therapy for that matter. If you aren’t quite vibing with your psychologist, don’t hesitate to find someone else who makes you feel safe. Know that you have plenty of other options in your healing journey, and above all, know that you are not alone in the process.