How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Your Child

Chances are, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is part of your child's treatment, but what exactly is CBT and what does it mean for your child?

CBT is a common form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationship between your child's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helps youth become aware of their inaccurate or negative thinking so they can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a healthier, more effective way.

Robyn Huntley, LMFT of PrairieCare says, “Often, when we go throughout our days in life, we are operating in autopilot mode–feeling emotions, thinking automatic thoughts, and reacting with behaviors based on them without being fully aware or tuned into the whole process of what's going on. This can be very problematic for us if our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are particularly negative or destructive.”

These automatic negative thoughts are often referred to as cognitive distortions, which convince the mind to think something that isn't really true and often reinforce negative thinking and emotions – like telling ourselves things that seem rational, but really only make us feel bad about ourselves.

CBT is different from traditional therapy methods in that the therapist and the client actively work together to help the client identify what thoughts cause distress and learn how to properly manage or change such thoughts. Together, the therapist and client typically develop a plan so the client can work toward a goal. The therapist will also assign homework that encourages the client to apply new methods in their daily life.

During CBT sessions, clients can expect to be actively engaged in learning and working toward developing new skills and patterns of thinking and behaving. Huntley says, “This therapeutic approach tends to be very structured and goal-oriented, with the therapist taking an active, sometimes directive role.”

Mayo Clinic identifies the following as the four steps of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

  1. Identifying troubling situations or conditions in the client's life. These may include such issues as medical condition, grief, anger, or symptoms of mental illness.
  2. Becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about these situations or conditions. Once the problems to work on have been identified, the client will be encouraged to share their thoughts on the issue. This may include your interpretation of the meaning of the situation, your beliefs about yourself, other people and events.
  3. Identifying negative or inaccurate thinking. To help recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to the problem, the therapist may ask the client to pay attention to physical, emotional, and behavioral responses in different situations.
  4. Challenging negative or inaccurate behavior. The therapist will encourage the client to ask themselves whether their view is based on fact or inaccurate perception of what is happening. This step can be very difficult. Helpful thinking and behavior patterns will become a habit after the client can identify what is fact or distortion.

CBT is useful for a number of mental illnesses, from eating disorders to personality disorders. When a client is actively involved in the therapy process and learns to recognize and modify their negative or inaccurate thoughts, they are able to decrease their distress and behave more functionally on a day-to-day basis. For more information on CBT and how it can help your child, check out the links below.


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