Therapy 101

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises and techniques

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Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises and techniques

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Many of us are our own worst critics. We might assume the worst of our situations or be too hard on ourselves and let our internal dialogue lead our decision-making. Over time, we might become a self-fulfilling prophecy of our negative thoughts.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is all about reframing thought patterns and seeing our world from a new perspective, which can lead to more accurate emotional responses and more helpful actions. Like physical exercise, there are certain techniques the therapist can teach you that can make your thought, emotion, behaviour cycle stronger. 

Here are three commonly used exercises and techniques for CBT:

Challenging cognitive distortions: Distorted thinking develops over time as a reaction to life’s challenges. We start to form thinking habits that are inaccurate and negatively biased. Common examples include “catastrophizing” (expecting the worst will happen, like making one small mistake at work and assuming you’ll be fired), “overgeneralizing” (assuming the same outcome for every situation based on one experience), and “filtering” (only seeing the negative aspects of a situation, or only focusing on your mistakes). Once we know these distortions, you can start to challenge them. Over time, they become less automatic.

Journaling: Related to cognitive distortions, journaling is a common exercise used in CBT to help track thought patterns. You’ll keep a record of negative thoughts, when and why they occurred, and eventually you’ll include jotting down new thoughts to challenge old ones. 

Activity scheduling: Putting off activities we enjoy is a common outcome of anxiety or depression. Part of CBT may include putting a new event in your calendar and sticking to it. This also helps break negative cycles, helps establish new habits and provides a positive sense of accomplishment. 

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