For instance, if we’re feeling anxious, we’ll think the worst is going to happen and act in ways to avoid doing anything that could provoke anxiety. If we’re feeling depressed, we tend to have very negative thoughts and withdraw from others, and these thoughts and behaviours make us even more depressed.
Cognitive therapy, also known as cogntive behavioural therapy or CBT, utilizes these relationship between your thoughts (also called cognitions), your actions (or behaviours) and your feelings or emotions. Because our thoughts, our feelings (or moods or emotions) and our actions (or behaviour) are so closely linked, making changes in any one of these areas tends to bring about changes in the others.
In cognitive therapy (CBT), we start by examining our patterns of thinking, recognizing how they are affecting our moods/emotions and our actions, and learning how to evaluate and adjust our thinking patterns, which in turn leads to changes in our moods and our behaviours.
Our thoughts don’t arise in a vacuum. They are shaped by underlying core beliefs we have about ourselves, the world and others. Based on these core beliefs, we form rules and assumptions about the way we should be, and these core beliefs, and rules and assumptions, influence of the way we see ourselves and the world, our behaviour, and the way we think and feel about things.
Our core beliefs, and rules and assumptions develop outside of our awareness. Because it’s much easier for us to become aware of our thoughts than our core beliefs and rules & assumptions, in cognitive therapy, we start by looking at our thoughts. Exploring and examining our thoughts helps us become aware of our rules & assumptions and core beliefs. Once we begin to recognize and understand these deeper beliefs that are responsible for our, we can then examine, evaluate and modify our rules & assumptions and core beliefs.
It might seem more logical to start with negative core beliefs first when doing cognitive therapy (CBT), given that these beliefs are what determine how we think, feel, and behave from day to day. However, since our core beliefs are so ingrained, they are a lot harder to shift than our thinking and behaviour in daily situations.
Examining our thinking and behaviour in specific situations tends to be easier to do, so by starting here you can begin to get some immediate benefit for your efforts. Starting here can also have an effect of slowly chipping away at your negative core beliefs, and allows you to practice skills you will be applying to tackling your unhelpful rules and negative core beliefs later.