Coping Mechanisms Within the Framework of CBT

Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is anything but a one-size-fits-all therapy, it is still particularly useful in treating all sorts of mental health conditions. A big part of CBT’s effectiveness is developing coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. It is the combination of coping mechanisms and introducing new thought patterns that gives a patient the opportunity to overcome whatever their challenge might be.

Coping Is a Necessary Thing

Over the last several decades, the idea of coping has earned an unnecessarily bad reputation. Even outside the boundaries of cognitive behavioral therapy, coping is often viewed as settling rather than actually overcoming. But the truth is that coping is a necessary thing. And that being the case, learning coping mechanisms is helpful.

A coping mechanism is essentially a conscious or unconscious strategy for dealing with stress, challenging situations, etc. Coping is all about managing life’s ups and downs. It is necessary because no one lives a perfect life. No matter how many challenges a person overcomes, there will always be new challenges waiting in the wings. And sometimes, coping is the only way to address those challenges.

Coping Mechanisms in CBT

As for CBT, it is a talking therapy that relies heavily on productive conversations between therapist and patient. CBT is rooted in the understanding that thoughts and emotions are intrinsically linked. One affects the other and vice versa.

Another key characteristic of cognitive behavioral therapy is that it focuses on the present rather than looking to the past. By helping patients understand their present thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, we open the door to change. That is where coping mechanisms come in.

A patient might struggle with negative thoughts about herself and her future. CBT can help her realign what she thinks of herself so that her thoughts are positive rather than negative. But unfortunately, the future hasn’t arrived yet. Therefore, the patient needs to learn coping mechanisms in order to manage anxiety related to future prospects and potential.

Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Therapists recognize that there are both healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. So within the framework of cognitive behavioral therapy, we try to identify both kinds. The ultimate goal is for the patient to learn effective coping mechanisms that lead to healthy regulation of thoughts and emotions. Examples include regular exercise and journaling.

The other side of that coin is employing unhealthy coping mechanisms that might help in the short term but lead to long term harm. These are coping mechanisms that negatively impact a patient physically, mentally, or both. They are the coping mechanisms patients need to learn to avoid. Examples include excessive eating and substance abuse.

Because CBT is designed to understand present thoughts and emotions for the purposes of introducing healthier ways of thinking, coping mechanisms are often problem focused. In other words, we want to identify the source of the stress and then come up with a coping mechanism that addresses it directly.

Helping Patients Focus

Coping mechanisms within the framework of CBT play a vital role in helping patients focus on the here and now instead of what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. A focus on the present lays the foundation for introducing new thought patterns and behaviors that directly address a patient’s challenges.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an especially useful tool for addressing a variety of mental health concerns. One of the keys to its success is helping patients develop coping mechanisms. With a good selection of coping mechanisms to work with, patients can realign their thoughts and emotions in a more positive direction.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

Coping Mechanisms Within the Framework of CBT