Life-Under-ConstructionWhen changes and challenges arise, people react in different ways.  Some people react with a sense of calm and acceptance, others react with excitement while focusing on the opportunities the change will bring, and others may react with worry, sadness, anger, or fear.

For a person who is already slightly depressed or anxious, a major life change may intensify anxiety and depression.  When these emotions become overwhelming, anxious and depressed people often seek help, such as counseling.

After they begin counseling, people often report that the change they experienced caused their anxiety or depression.  However, it is not the change itself that caused the emotional state; it is the individual’s reaction to the change.  Furthermore, the person’s mental state before the change occurred also contributed to their reaction.  The psychologist’s next task is to help the patient understand their reaction and begin to make positive changes to reduce depression and anxiety.

How do psychologists help patients?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used psychological treatment that has been proven effective in treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.  CBT therapists focus on understanding the role of thoughts (cognitions) and behavior on emotions.  A major task in CBT is to develop awareness of the thoughts that lead to emotions.  For example, imagine that you are criticized by your boss at work.  You may immediately feel sad, anxious, or angry.  How you feel depends on your thoughts about what happened.  If you feel angry, you may be thinking “This guy is a jerk!”  If you feel anxious, you may be thinking, “I hope I don’t lose my job!”  Often these thoughts occur so quickly that they are almost unrecognizable.  Your CBT psychologist will help you slow down this process and become more aware of the thoughts behind the emotions.  The next step in this process is beginning to challenge thoughts and working toward more balanced thinking.

CBT therapists also work with patients to help them change their schemas.  A schema is a pattern of thinking centered on a particular theme, and it influences the way people view the world.  Schemas may develop in childhood and persist into adulthood. For example, a person may have a schema that they are a bad and unworthy person.  This schema is strengthened as the person looks for evidence that seems to confirm those views.  The CBT therapist will work with the patient to change this schema, and develop a more realistic and healthy self-image.

Another important part of CBT therapy is to work on changing behavior.  A CBT psychologist will help patients understand how certain behaviors maintain their anxiety and depression.  For example, people with low self-esteem may avoid others because they believe others will not like them.  By doing this, they strengthen their schema that they are bad or unworthy.  The CBT psychologist will work with these patients to help them try out new social behaviors and develop positive relationships.  The CBT psychologist may also recommend other behavioral changes, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and activity scheduling.

CBT is an effective treatment for people with a variety of concerns, including relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, procrastination, and stress.  To determine if CBT is the appropriate treatment for you, consult with a psychologist in your area.