the study of the human mind, and it is a surprisingly recent development. In the ancient past the study of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors was closely linked to their physical health. It was believed that sickness and temperament were basically the same thing.
If a person was sick, it was because they had a bad attitude. If they were angry, it was because they were out of balance internally. Only when people began to study the human body did we start to think of the human mind as something unique from, say, the stomach.
But even this development in science was met with a diversity of interpretations. One of the most famous is Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s notion of behavioral psychology, and the behavior therapy that followed along with it. Most psychologists of the time were concerned with responding to people’s desires and personalities. But Skinner didn’t care for all of that.
Let’s talk about behavior therapy, as that will allow us to more easily define its modern counterpart, cognitive behavior therapy. This includes what it does and how it can help.
What is Behavior Therapy?
To start with, let’s explore the mind of behavior therapy’s founder, B.F. Skinner.
In Skinner’s mind, a person was an animal with an anomaly called a consciousness intruding on its primary survival functions. And like an animal, they can be trained to react in certain ways.
Skinner separated the function of the brain (cognitive function) out into stimulus, which is the information you take in, and response, which is the reaction you have to that information.
There is a certain intuitiveness to this line of thinking. Things happen, and people respond. People are organisms and they want to survive. If they are taught that something threatens their survival, then they will respond more drastically to that thing.
An easy example of how this might work is “rubber band training” that some alcoholics are taught to do. What happens here is that an alcoholic will be given a rubber band to wrap around their wrist. When they crave a drink, they pull the rubber band so that it snaps back and strikes their wrist, causing pain, but no harm. They repeat the action till the craving passes.
Eventually, they will begin to associate the craving for the drink with the pain in their wrist. This will lessen their cravings, making it easier to deny drink even if the rubber band is gone.
What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?
When the word “cognitive” is appended to behavior therapy, it means that rather than focusing on adjusting habits through physical conditioning, we are adjusting habits through mental conditioning. So, that whole example of the rubber band on the wrist won’t work here.
Bad things happen. They happen for lots of reasons, but none of those reasons ultimately matter once the bad thing has come to pass. What matters then is responding to the bad thing.
For a lot of people, particularly when bad things happen consistently or chronically, whatever bad things that happen will stick out in their mind. This is because the human brain is designed to accentuate the negative in an effort to spot threats to its survival.
Once the mind develops a response to those bad things, the rest of the nervous system will react in kind. The idea behind cognitive behavior therapy is to change those responses.
How Does Cognitive Behavior Therapy Work?
One of the advantages of rubber band training is that it makes a lot of sense to anyone that has been struck by a rubber band before. Pain hurts, and people avoid it. But cognitive behavior therapy is a lot less intuitive, as it does not always seek to avoid pain.
Inside the mind, sometimes pain is generated even when no harm is done. You might get anxious even though there is nothing to worry about. Avoiding pain is easy but going forward despite the presence of pain is farm more difficult.
This is why cognitive behavior therapy focuses on intellectualizing and examining what is going on when a certain reaction happens. A person will work with their therapist to identify what is triggering their negative feelings (whether those feelings be anxiety or anger), and then take it a step further to examine what feelings those are and how they are displayed.
The best way to think of it is in terms of symptoms versus disease. The “disease” is the trigger, and oftentimes a trigger will be a mundane thing. You can’t avoid mundane things. But you can deal with the symptoms to make dealing with that mundane thing more tolerable.
In the end, if there are no symptoms, then the disease isn’t really a disease. You can deal with mundane things without having to change the things or avoid them, which makes you healthier.
When Should I Seek Out Cognitive Behavior Therapy?
Cognitive behavior therapy is used far and wide. The things that it treats are usually disorders of the mind brought about by bad circumstances. That means things like depression, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and phobias. It can also help with substance abuse.
It is worth noting that certain conditions, like bipolar disorder and certain anxiety disorders, cannot be treated with cognitive behavior therapy. You are better off getting medication for some things, even things that cognitive behavior therapy can, in theory, treat.
This is simply a matter of efficiency combined with practicality. Some mental issues are so deeply rooted that while cognitive behavior therapy can treat them, it would take so long that you are better off medicating them in order to get to a point of comfort to begin with.
After all, you can still get cognitive behavior therapy while on medication. View Epiphany Wellness for more info on these kinds of plans.
Cognitive behavior therapy is widely used because it is considered one of the best ways to quickly diagnose mental problems and address them rationally. So if you need help, do not hesitate to give it a try.