Behavioral Therapy? Is it complicated? Can It help someone who is struggling with drug/alcohol addiction? What does the word Cognitive even mean?
Lets Break it Down....
Cognitive: Refers to just about anything that goes through that head of yours: thoughts, images, dreams, memories, and anything else that grabs your attention.
Behavioral: Refers to anything you do, or choose not to do.
Therapy: Refers to a method used to treat a problem.
Rene Descartes, often credited with being the father of modern philosophy, famously stated “I think; therefore I am.” Following a similar ideology, CBT believers might take a stab at enlightenment philosophy and proclaim (in a snooty French accent), “I think; therefore I feel.”
You might assume that if something happens to you, like getting stuck in I-270 rush hour traffic, it is the event that makes you feel like laying on your horn or using 140 characters or less to express your vehicular bloodlust on Twitter: “There’s a psycho in your rear view mirror (It’s me!)”
But according to CBT, It is not the events that trigger the emotions, but rather the thoughts that accompany the activating event. Often times, we have adopted rigid, distorted thinking which leads to emotional distress and self-destructive behaviors.
To explain further, let’s take a peek inside the head of Mr. Road Rage as he sits in traffic; “I have already worked an eight hour day and I shouldn’t have to sit in traffic behind this slow poke in the Smart Car. What kind of jerk drives a Smart Car anyway? He probably bought that car just to tick me off.”
You may think to yourself, “Wow, good thing I’m not a nut job like that guy.” Well I want to let you in on a little secret; we all have the potential to be that "nut.” The good news is that you don't live in Crazy Town alone. Everyone on this planet is capable of adopting and adhering to their own brand of dysfunctional thinking; however, when you learn how to identify your cognitive distortions, you can challenge your thoughts, regulate distressing emotions, and finally get the heck out of Crazy Town (or at least move to a more pleasant suburb outside the city limits) So lets put CBT to the test and challenge some of Mr. Road Rage's problematic thinking.
Thoughts: I have already worked an eight hour day and I shouldn’t have to sit in traffic behind this slow poke in the Smart Car. What kind of jerk drives a Smart Car anyway? He probably bought that car just to tick me off.
Well if I were a behavioral scientist, which I am and so are you, it seems as if this road ragger is filtering his Activating Event (being stuck in traffic), through some faulty Belief Systems (personal thinking styles which filter the way we see the world and interpret experiences).
A “should” statement immediately merits a “red flag.” Shoulds/Musts are a quick way to identify Demand Making, a common cognitive distortion. Placing demands on self or others always leads to emotional distress. Psychologist Albert Ellis called these demands The Musts; The world must be a certain way, I must be a certain way, and others must treat me a certain way. Ellis believed that as long as we hold on to these musts, we are in for a world of hurt.
To balance these thoughts lets try some flexible/preferential thinking instead: “I have worked an eight hour day and would prefer not having to sit in traffic.”
OK, sitting in traffic still stinks, but that seems less rigid. But what about the jerk in the Smart car?
Hmmm, Are we sure that guy in the Smart Car is a jerk? How do we know that he is not just petite? Or a clown? Or European? Or eco-friendly? How do we know that he hasn’t just had an exhausting work day too?
In fact, there is no real evidence that suggests that the jerk in the Smart Car has any malicious intent. He may be driving too slowly, but again, it is unrealistic to think that this guy set out this morning with the intent to ruin some stranger’s day. And in my experience, laying on the horn has never helped speed up rush hour traffic.
So, I guess it's possible that he may not be a supreme jerk after all?
Well, I guess he might not be a Supreme jerk, maybe just a regular jerk.
As Mr. Road Rage continues to identify and challenge cognitive distortions, he can move from a state of rage to a healthier emotion, irritation.
Ta-Da! Emotional Regulation!
If Mr. Road Rage's thoughts had gone un-challenged, the result could have been devastating. He could have driven erratically, hurt himself or others, faced legal consequences, and if he was a person with the disease of addiction, used drugs or alcohol.
Instead, Mr. Road Rage took a deep breath, turned up his favorite radio station and focused on all the pleasant leg room in his Hummer. Finding small ways to achieve more balanced thinking equals SIGNIFICANT BEHAVIORAL CHANGES.
Mr. Road Rage offers a light perspective on the beginning process of CBT; however, drug and alcohol addiction is a life threatening disease. Reseach shows that most addicted people have low stress tolerance (a result of both brain chemicals and environment). An addicted person’s inability to regulate distressing emotions, cope with past trauma, practice impulse control or manage cravings, can and will result in death if left untreated. CBT skills help addicted people take back their life and leave behind the emotional chaos that has become their status quo.
When do you tend to do your most rigid thinking? Challenge yourself this week to find a more balanced thought.