Why CBT isn’t about positive thinking.

If the idea of CBT was to help people by teaching them to ‘think positive’ then cognitive behavioural therapy would not exist. CBT definitely is not about positive thinking. I promise you. This is a huge misconception. Actually in my opinion the cognitive (thought) element CBT is about teaching people to think factually, realistically, logically and reasonably, whilst taking into account feelings and behaviours. A few months ago I needed CBT therapy after going through a difficult time. I said to my therapist. ‘Things in my life at the moment are shit’. She agreed, there was no refuting the fact that in the current circumstances, things were ‘shit’ this was not a thinking error, or distortion. The amount of trauma I had and was continuing to experience and having just been diagnosed with several medical conditions and not long having been in hospital culminated in a state of what most people would agree was shittiness (does that have one or two t’s?). However, if I had just broken a nail but everything else in my life was relatively ok and then said ‘things in my life at the moment are shit’ this would be an example of a cognitive distortion, namely overgeneralisation and catastrophising. You can read more about cognitive distortions in this article from Harley Therapy. Nonethleses, in both of these situations, being told to ‘think positive’ would have absolutely no effect whatsoever. It’s as much use as telling somebody to fall in love with a washing machine, it just isn’t going to happen. CBT is about whether you believe or ‘buy into your thoughts’. We are all in the habit of believing our own thoughts, unfortunately we cannot always be relied upon to think logically or factually. We often engage in emotional reasoning ‘I feel bad therefore things must be bad’ or ‘I feel fantastic therefore everything is fantastic’. Yes we do get it right sometimes, but as in the case of depression, or OCD we cannot always trust the validity of our thoughts. So if we can’t just ‘think positive’ what do we do? We QUESTION our thoughts, we challenge them, we change our behaviour. Overtime this process can actually lead to a change in the type or frequency of the thoughts we have, hopefully they will be more realistic, and as a bonus more positive. This is what CBT is really about. It’s not about thinking positive. However, sometimes when things are shitty we need to learn to accept that, and that is a whole other blog post in itself, so I shall sign off now.

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