The Ownership Aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most recognized and utilized forms of psychological treatment worldwide. It has proven itself to be an effective option for treating a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It is a therapy we utilize at Aspire Psychological.

Although not directly related to CBT, one of the concepts loosely associated with it is vulnerability. To learn more about the details of vulnerability, please read one of our previous blog posts here. In a nutshell, vulnerability is the act of doing something that forces one out of their comfort zone. Doing so facilitates growth. We can apply this concept to CBT through the idea of owning one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

CBT’s Basic Tenets

CBT is primarily a talking therapy involving multiple discussions between therapist and patient. It is built on two basic tenets:

  • Connecting the Dots – Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected with one another. In CBT, we strive to connect the proverbial dots. Therapists help patients understand how each of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influences all the others.
  • Identifying Unhelpful Thinking – CBT seeks to identify unhelpful, negative, or distorted thinking patterns that contribute to mental and emotional distress.

It has been said that vulnerability is all about taking ownership of one’s life story. That ownership includes thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By connecting the dots and identifying unhelpful thinking patterns, we lay the groundwork for change. But for change to occur, one needs to take ownership of what CBT reveals.

CBT and Thought Distortions

The work of identifying unhelpful thinking patterns almost always leads to what we call thought distortions. Distorted thoughts negatively influence perceptions, leading to emotional distress. Here are three examples of thought distortion:

  • Catastrophizing – Catastrophizing is the practice of always assuming the worst. Every negative, no matter how slight, is perceived as catastrophically bad. Such thinking makes it difficult to see any good in one’s life story.
  • Overgeneralizing – Over generalizing is the practice of reaching overly broad conclusions based on limited information. Oftentimes, people who overgeneralize take a single event and blow it way out of proportion.
  • Filtering – Filtering is the practice of focusing only on the negative in a given situation. The negative becomes the overriding theme that governs a person’s thoughts.

In CBT, we seek to identify thought distortions and bring them to the surface. It is important for a patient to own those distortions, at least in the sense of acknowledging their existence and impact on thoughts and behaviors. Doing so invites vulnerability.

You Can Only Change What You Own

The point to all of this is to illustrate the fact that one can only change what one owns. Change only comes when a person is willing to be vulnerable during the process of connecting the dots and identifying unhelpful thinking. Patients and therapists work together to dig as deeply as they can. And the deeper they get, the more vulnerable the patient tends to be.

Vulnerability is only one aspect of CBT. But it is an important aspect, nonetheless. It is not always easy to examine emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, especially when such examinations bring out the uncomfortable. But in order for CBT to do its job, a deep examination is required.

We have worked with many patients to achieve very good results with CBT. We invite you to contact us to learn more about how it might help you. Aspire Psychological operates several clinics alongside online therapy accessible throughout most of the country. We would be happy to help you if we can.

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.

The Ownership Aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy