Changing your thoughts = changing your behavior

Cognitive behavioral therapy can work!

If you are depressed, do you make yourself a stiff drink to cope?

If you are stressed, do you smoke a joint in hopes it will help?

If you worry too much, do you search the medicine cabinet for a pill to relax you?

These methods of coping with everyday issues may bring temporary relief, but in the long-term the problem is still there and the way you manage it is not a healthy solution. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one tool therapists use to help clients replace unwanted behaviors when coping with problems. It focuses on changing negative thoughts to positive ones. It can be effective for individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marital problems, eating disorders and many other mental health concerns. Extensive research and scientific evidence have demonstrated that CBT can lead to major improvements in an individual’s quality of life.

As therapists, we work to change unhealthy ways of thinking, break those learned patterns of unhealthy behaviors, help clients find better and more effective ways to cope with everyday unresolved issues, and show our clients how to use problem-solving techniques effectively. We want individuals to develop strong coping skills so they can change their negative thinking. 

What do people say to themselves when they are confronted with an issue? Are they using positive self-talk or are they expressing gloom and doom?

If you change a thought, you can change a behavior. It’s that simple, but not always that easy to do.

For example, if you were raised in a home where drinking heavily was the norm when your parents were dealing with a problem, you probably assumed that drinking was the solution. These were the coping techniques you learned. The goal of CBT is to identify problems, change your thinking toward them, and adopt healthy actions to resolve them.

As therapists, we use a variety of techniques to help clients change their behaviors. These can include self-talk, deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, journaling and exercise. It’s all about mind over matter. It is similar to the 12-step process in addiction recovery.

In order to change, clients first need to understand the steps involved in change, why these steps are effective, and how to take the first step.

I worked with one client who was so depressed that he tried to commit suicide. I worked with him over a long period of time as he began taking one small, clearly defined positive step at a time to begin his new life of positive change. Once he mastered each step, he took one more. Along the way, he did relapse – and more than once – but he started again and is now seeing life can be worth living. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been effective, but he has had to work hard at removing negative thoughts, and he is learning to take responsibility for his actions. It took him a while to realize it was time to solve his problems, not create new ones. Using his old ways to cope with life weren’t working, he learned.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a guide to a new, healthy way of living if you practice the techniques and are ready to make changes. Maybe you don’t have to smoke pot to cope, but you will need different resources and plenty of reinforcements. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

If someone is really receptive and really ready to make some changes to feel better, the results of CBT may be seen faster, but clients have to use the tools they learn. All of the tools for success are there, you just have to use them. 

In other people, their beliefs are so deeply embedded that it will take longer for CBT techniques to work. It also will take trust with your therapist. The therapist/client connection is critical to a successful outcome.

CBT techniques can help you handle life better, but you need to be honest with yourself. You may have lived in denial for many years and now you realize you want to change your life, but it will take some time.

Examine our thoughts closely and clearly; you are not your thoughts – you don’t have to act on them. 

Be adaptive without reacting. Learn better coping skills. Incorporate these as your new habits.

And remember, seek help. You are not alone. The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health has a complete team of therapists ready to help.

Negative thinking is our new enemy

Over the past several weeks, I have continued to see almost all of my clients – through Zoom, Face Time or via the telephone. It is not so much because of COVID, but it is the intensity of isolation they are experiencing. The pandemic is like a boogeyman – he is out there looming. People are afraid; they are angry; they are frustrated; they want their normal life to resume; they want to get back to work and make money. It’s a financial and emotional pandemic as well as a health pandemic. 

Part of the frustration and anxiety stems from the fact that the pandemic’s outcome now rests on our shoulders. We need to wear masks, we need to practice social distancing, we need to follow the rules if we want the virus to go away. It is now our responsibility; the future is in our hands.

Unfortunately, plenty of negativity is clouding our rational thinking, causing even more stress and worry. 

Here is some advice that may help steer you away from the cliff:

  • When seeking reliable information about COVID, the best sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – not your neighbor or Facebook.
  • Suppress negative thinking as much as possible. It is dangerous and can cause severe psychological consequences. It peaks fear and stress and does not change the situation. It only brings out the worst in you. And stress can affect the immune system.
  • Practice mindfulness. Sit quietly, focus on the present moment, and close your mind to all outside distractions.
  • Try to stay calm and remain in close contact with positive family members and friends. Help each other. 
  • Ease the worry and fear in your children. If they see you are anxious, they will behave that way, too. Talk with them honestly, listen to their concerns, provide them with accurate information, turn off the TV and limit time on the computer. Spend more time together enjoying family activities.
  • Take steps to prevent the disease from spreading. Wash your hands frequently, disinfect regularly touched surfaces often and follow the Governor’s guidelines.

It is important to not let fear control your thinking and your life.

If you feel you are becoming too overwhelmed, you may want to consider seeking professional help from a mental health therapist. The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health can provide the services you need. Simply call 248.399.7447 or schedule an appointment through the center’s website: