As a therapist that specialises in working with males, I have developed a lot of understanding from those that I have been fortunate enough to work with in my practice. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a joint working approach, with both client and therapist, so I too have been on a journey of discovery during the past couple of years.
The thing that I want to write about in this Blog today, is the one thing all my clients have in common.....and that is...believing their thoughts to be true. Whether they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, or both, the one thing each one of them has in common is they are having negative thoughts about themselves, their lives and others around them and believing them to be true.
CBT is one of the most heavily researched forms of therapy and the research provides really strong evidence that the way us humans think, will control how we feel and then our feelings will control what actions we take. Why is this important?....well if we are having negative thoughts and believing them to be true, we will experience the negative emotion related to that particular thought.
Example - Your partner comes home late from work a few nights in a row...
As I am sure you may already be aware, our brain is there to protect us from danger, but it doesn't know the difference between what is real and what isn't. It can therefore misinterpret dangerous situations from the thoughts that we have.
An example...(Thought) - 'What if I have cancer'...(Brain)...Detects danger and sets off (Feeling) anxiety response to protect you... followed by (Behaviour) google symptoms for reassurance (which makes it worse).
Your brain always has your best interest at heart. It wants you to feel safe, but can get it SO wrong at times. It will convince you to avoid situations, or google your symptoms (for example) in an attempt to help you to feel safe. But by doing this, it makes your problem worse in the long term. An example could be if you experience social anxiety. Your brain will convince you to stay at home instead of going out, because it wants to protect you from feeling uncomfortable. But by doing this, you will miss out on valuable life experiences, it will impact on your relationships and your anxiety over time will get worse. Your brain doesn't know this, but it has your best interests at heart in trying to keep you safe.
You may now be asking the question, so how do I do this, as my thoughts feel very real and I have a lot of them?. First of all, it is important to know that our thoughts are automatic, they just come into our mind with out our say so, but for those that experience a lot of negative thoughts, this can be difficult to manage and extremely distressing.
As a therapist, I see it as my role to help my clients to start to believe for themselves that their thoughts are not real. If me saying to them "oh by the way, your thoughts are not real" was enough on its own, then life would be much easier for us all, but it isn't that simple. They have to believe it for themselves for their brain to stop reacting to them as their reality.
So how?...There are many things we can do. Education is extremely important, because this isn't something we are taught in school. Understanding how our mind works and what we can do to change its current programming is crucial. We do this by formulating the clients individual difficulties on paper, which helps them to see how it all links together. We can then start to plan out where changes need to be made.
Those experiencing symptoms of depression may struggle to focus on their thinking patterns, so we would put the focus on to making behaviour changes. We would identify unhelpful behaviours and agree on small achievable goals to start to change these. If we can change the behaviours, we can change the thoughts and then the feelings associated with them. Thought replacement techniques can also be very effective when implemented into a daily routine, as consistency and repetition is key for change to happen. This is when the brain starts to have new experiences with alternative outcomes and the negative emotional response starts to shift.
What is important to understand is that none of us are born anxious, sad or fearful, there is therefore a reason. And that reason does not need to remain with you to determine your future. When we are experiencing difficulties with our mental health, our perception becomes distorted, which means our thoughts become distorted and the feelings we experience are often not a reflection of our reality. It is my passion as a therapist to educate, support and work with my clients on the journey to understanding this, so they can take back control and start to live the life they so desperately want and deserve to have. It gives me great pleasure in watching the transformation that many of my clients go through during therapy.
"Just to be shown on paper how my mind works when I am depressed, was a light bulb moment and I have not looked back" (Male Client).
Take Care and Stay Safe