Why Does CBT Work (for Anxiety and More)?

The MindYou have about 500,000 thoughts every day. Some of them are conscious, but many are thoughts in your subconscious mind – you’re not even aware of them.

The types of thoughts you think directly correspond to how you feel. If you are thinking lots of negative thoughts (up to 500,000 a day), you will end up with negative feelings. If you think a lot of worst case scenario thoughts, you will end up feeling scared and anxious.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a scientifically proven, effective way to learn better ways to manage your thoughts, feelings, and actions/reactions. But why does CBT work so well and how does it work?

You Can’t Just “Think Positive”

Unfortunately, it’s not easy (perhaps impossible!) to “just think positive.” If it were that easy, you’d be doing it all the time.

If your brain is in the habit of thinking lots of negative or anxiety-provoking thoughts, it is really unrealistic to expect it to one day “just think positive.”

In order to feel better, your brain needs a systematic way to learn how to change that negative thinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides that proven and effective method to do just that.

Why It’s So Hard to Change Your Thinking

neural-pathways-istock_000006935562xsmallIt has to do with how your brain makes new thoughts, so let’s take a look at the scientific principles behind this…

You have billions of neurons in your brain. To form a single thought, a group of neurons connect to each other to create a neural pathway – and that neural pathway is the thought. As you think a different thought, those neurons scurry away and connect up with other neurons to make new thoughts.

When you think the same thoughts (or same type of thoughts) over and over, the neurons in your brain get very smart. They figure “why should we scurry away and connect with other neurons to make different thoughts. We’ll just stay here because we know you’re going to think this thought again.”

The more you think the same old thoughts, the more cemented that neural pathway becomes. It becomes a paved freeway like I-94! At that point, it becomes what is called “the automatic pathway”. Your brain quickly and automatically repeats that old way of thinking because you have pre-paved the way with your past thinking.

How Your Brain Changes with CBT

The amazing thing about your brain is that no matter how long old automatic pathways have been there, your brain has neuroplasticity: the ability to change and create new ways of thinking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you do this by teaching you tools and techniques to:cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364

1. Identify the old, automatic pathways. The big challenge here is that they are so automatic that they have often become subconscious (you’re not even aware of them).
2. Create new, alternative pathways. These are new thoughts and new ways of thinking that feel better, let you break old patterns, and create new patterns. The challenge here is that when the automatic pathway is still running the show, it is very difficult to be able to just think different thoughts. It’s definitely not as easy as “just think positive.”
3. Catch yourself going down the old automatic pathway and switch to the new one. There are specific techniques used to help the brain be able to shift to a different pathway.

CBT for Anxiety Disorders

Many people think that external situations in their life are what cause anxiety. Honestly, none of these things in and of themselves can create anxiety.

External situations or people do not create your anxiety. Your thoughts ABOUT the external situations or people create feelings of anxiety. Anxiety always works this way.

Life certainly presents difficult and stressful situations. With a CBT therapist you can learn concrete ways to think differently about the same situations, and thus, feel better (and have less anxiety) even when the situation still exists.

Scientifically Proven through Research

CBT is really growing right now because so many scientific studies prove CBT is the most effective treatment for many things, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, weight loss, chronic pain, and more.

CBT works to literally rewire the way your brain thinks, thus it offers long-term results.

CBT is one of the main techniques I use with all my clients – for making any type of long-term change they want to make. Think better thoughts, feel better, and live a happier life!