Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Workshop
CBT Principles in Action: Some Examples
As an example of CBT principles, we’ll follow a fictional character named, Helen. Imagine that Helen's husband has told her that he needs to work late one evening, and that he would call her by 8:00 pm. However, at 8:35 pm Helen's husband has not called. What might she think? How might she feel? Below are two examples, Response A and Response B. For each response, notice first the thoughts that Helen has about her husband not calling on time. Then, notice the feelings and the behaviors associated with the thoughts. See if it makes sense to you that the kinds of thoughts Helen has would likely generate the types of feelings and behaviors listed as well.
What are some differences between the types of thoughts listed in Response A and Response B? Given that Helen and her husband are not having any significant problems in their relationship, which thoughts seem more balanced or realistic? Does it make sense that the more extreme thoughts in Response A would lead to more distressing feelings and behaviors than the types of thoughts in Response B?
Of course, we don't know everything about Helen's situation with her husband. We don't really know if he is angry with Helen, or if something terrible has happened to him, or if his oversight in calling her is innocent. So, we can't really know what the more realistic, accurate thoughts are for her situation. The examples presented above are really just to illustrate how certain types of thoughts can lead to certain types of feelings and behaviors. For instance, it would seem quite strange for Helen's thoughts in Response A to generate the more mild feelings of Response B. Instead, it makes more sense that those strong or extreme thoughts would generate the more distressing feelings listed in Response A.
Think back to some situations you have experienced that might be similar to Helen's. Have you ever gotten very upset about something, certain that a terrible event had happened, only to find out that you were totally off base? Have you ever misinterpreted someone else's intentions or reactions, believing that it was some reaction towards you, only to discover that it had nothing to do with you at all? Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about something and later found out that your assumptions were inaccurate? Sometimes, our faulty thinking doesn't cause us too many problems, but then again sometimes it does.
In Helen's case, she has learned over time that she has a tendency to jump to drastic conclusions or become frightened by thinking about outcomes that are unlikely to happen. Sometimes this leads her to become angry quickly and verbally lash out at her husband. Other times she feels sad and withdrawals quietly to her room. We will use Helen's situation above in our discussion on specific CBT strategies shortly. First, we need to cover a few more ideas about the CBT approach.