Cognitive Behavioral Therapy improves your life.

Woman thinking

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts create depression.
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy improves your life.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

CBT is more than just a therapy.

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT has proven effective in treating severe mental illnesses, including depression and generalized anxiety. In some controlled studies, CBT therapy has been more effective than medication for treating various mental illnesses. CBT is so effective for treating even the most severe depression that it has become the treatment of choice for depression. For now, I’ll focus on how CBT reduces depression and increases subjective feelings of well-being which we sometimes call happiness or contentment. Just remember that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be highly effective for many other problems of living.

CBT can help you create your good life.

CBT goes beyond simply being a professional treatment for severe mental illness. CBT is effective for treating mild or even subclinical illnesses. The principles of CBT are also effective for helping people with low self-esteem and low self-confidence. In addition, cognitive-behavioral therapy principles are helpful in treating a variety of problems of everyday living, including frustration, guilt, and apathy. While CBT is a theory used by counselors and therapists, many people have been helped simply by reading books and hopefully blog posts that explain the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The origins of CBT.

CBT began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, though its roots go all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Before CBT, therapy was primarily divided into two distinct camps. Traditional Freudian psychoanalysis was long, involved, expensive, and focused mainly on exploring unconscious drives.

The other major therapeutic camp is the behavioral scientists, who believe that it was possible to shape behavior by reward and punishment. In a strictly behavioral model, the role of what you’re thinking is disregarded as either unknowable or irrelevant. While the stick and the carrot are still popular with some bosses and some educators, we have learned that human behavior sometimes defies the effects of rewards and punishment.

Today over three hundred different therapy theories have been described. Most are either focused on feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. CBT and related counseling theories have become the treatment of choice for depression and are helpful for many other problems.

What are the primary components of CBT therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on the relationships between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By examining your thoughts, you can learn to alter your feelings and your behavior. Once you know the basic principles of CBT, you will also find that a change in behavior can change feelings and, therefore, your thoughts about the situation. By two different routes, changes in thinking can result in changes in feelings. By following this thinking, your feelings are no longer controlled by outside influences. Now you can choose how you wish to feel about various situations.

How do thoughts play a role in your mental health?

Your cognitions are made up largely of your thoughts and beliefs and your perceptions. Your thoughts create your moods. This process happens very rapidly and goes almost unnoticed. For example, when most people are angry, they believe that someone or something externally made them angry. But when we study the phenomenon of anger more closely, we find that what you believe about what that other person did causes you to become angry. I’ve written more about this connection in some blog posts about anger and anger management.

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming just because you think something it must be true. Not everything you think is true. If you’ve ever seen something on the ground ahead of you, gone to pick it up, and then discovered that it wasn’t what you thought it was, you’ve experienced an example of how thoughts can appear very real even when they are just mistaken beliefs.

There’s also a particular connection between thoughts and the chemistry in your brain. Because of the prevalence of the use of some psychiatric medicines, some people have come to believe that depression is the result of a shortage of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. As we’ve learned more about brain chemistry, we come to find that thoughts are moved in the brain from one neuron to another chemically. Simply having more depressing thoughts reduces the prevalence of certain neurotransmitters, while more happy thoughts increase the prevalence of those neurotransmitters.

Don’t misunderstand. CBT does not propose to change the brain simply by thinking happy thoughts. In addition to a handful of prominent thoughts in your brain at any one moment, there are a host of other automatic thoughts taking place in the background. Humans are cognitive misers. We don’t think out each movement of our hands before we reach for a cup of coffee. The same thing happens when it comes to thoughts about life events. People get into the habit of automatic thoughts, which results in them interpreting life events as either positive or negative. CBT therapy seeks to find those recurring “unhelpful thoughts” and teach you to reevaluate them and dispute those that are not helpful.

People with depression have characteristic patterns of thinking.

Depression in all its various shades and flavors is caused by patterns of pervasive negativity. In general, pessimists are more likely to be depressed, while optimists are more likely to be content with their life. We used to think that personality was pretty well fixed at birth. You were born either a pessimist or an optimist. Research across the lifespan has shown that personality does change, usually at a slow rate, but there are things that you can do to become more optimistic. We can debate whether the pessimist or the optimist sees the world more realistically, but what happens is that the optimist is happier and often more successful.

The negative thoughts which create and maintain depression are often distorted, inaccurate, and unrealistic. Unfortunately, depressed people rarely think to challenge these negative, unhelpful thoughts. Most negative thoughts are distorted, inaccurate, and unrealistic.

So, what can you do if your brain continues to replay negative, unhelpful thoughts?

The first step in the process of defeating depression, anxiety, and other life problems is learning to recognize when you have slipped into a pattern of negative, unhelpful thoughts and then, having recognized them begin to dispute those thoughts.

In some future posts, I want to walk you through the steps of recognizing and disputing unhelpful beliefs, improving your optimism and your outlook on life, and creating the happy, contented, well-functioning life we all deserve.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

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Unhelpful thoughts that are holding you back.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

How many of these unhelpful thoughts are you holding onto?

Most people have a number of negative dysfunctional thoughts that get in the ways of having the happiest life possible. Some counselors call these thought patterns self-defeating thoughts or self-sabotaging.

Recently I have come to think of these thoughts as hugely unhelpful. Calling them unhelpful thoughts makes them easier to transform. If you have any of these unhelpful thoughts filling up your head and getting in the way of you being the person you want to be, if these kinds of thoughts are between you and your happy life, then now is the time to change these thoughts.

I should never make a mistake.

Do you think it is wrong to make a mistake? Making mistakes is a part of doing. The only way to avoid mistakes is to do nothing and that is a mistake. Cut yourself some slack and stop trying to be something you are not. No one is perfect. Accept this and let your best be good enough. Insisting on perfection keeps you stuck in mediocrity.

I am right and they are wrong.

This is sometimes called “right fighting.” Insisting on being right does not foster better communicator or move things along towards a resolution. It does not matter who is right. Rarely will continuing to insist that you are right, make any difference. Let other people have their own opinions. Just because others may not agree with you should not diminish your view of yourself.

There is something missing in my life.

You have what you have. Continuing to focus on what is missing keeps you stuck. Really believe you need something? Then go out on a quest and find the missing element. What happens to so many people who spend their lives looking for that one missing element is that when they find it, it turns out the search was what they needed not the thing.

More money will fix what is wrong.

Money helps sometimes. More money creates more options. But most of life’s really major problems can’t be solved by money alone. If you put off action thinking that only money will make a difference you will miss out on a lot of other possibilities in life. Having money rarely happens all at once. People who have true wealth build it a little at a time over the long haul. Invest in yourself and the rest will follow.

Others need to change before I can.

Making others change is really hard. Most of the time you will not be able to make them change. If your reaching your goals requires others to change you are out of luck. The best way to create change in others is to change yourself first and then see how that puts others in a position to change in response.

My problems are someone else’s fault.

People can ease your path or make it more difficult. Continuing to blame others keeps you stuck in the past and in the problem. While others may have contributed to where you are, for good or bad, you are the one deciding whether to stay stuck in the past or move forward in the present.

Accepting that you are responsible for your choices and taking back your power over your future is on the path to recovery. Want to get unstuck? Start making your own choices. Stop looking over your shoulder at what others did to you in the past and start to look forward to what you will do for you in the future.

Things should not be this way.

The world is as it is. Energy focused on the problem is energy diverted from the solution. Dwelling on all the things that are wrong and insisting that things be the way you wish them to be will not change them.

Don’t like the way things are? Go about making changes. Start by changing you and then work on being of service to those around you.

I must have someone to love me.

To attract love into your life you need to be someone who loves themselves. Work on being the best you possible. Be your own best friend. Do kind loving things for you and those around you.

A partner can’t overcome the things you do not like about yourself.

 Other people must like me.

No one is ever liked by everyone. The more people do the more others will criticize them. Do what is right. Do what pleases you. You cannot please everyone all the time. If you please, one person, you may displease others. Focus too much on pleasing others and you will lose yourself.

I need to prepare before I can do something.

You are always doing what you are doing. You will not start out being perfect. Life is about growth and learning. Becoming good at anything requires practice. If you never begin because you are waiting to be fully prepared you will never get started.

My past controls my future.

Your past may have made you who you are but what you do now will make you who you will become. Every moment of every day we have choices. Some are small choices and some are larger. Those small choices can add up to large changes over time.

Which of these unhelpful thoughts are holding you back? Which will you begin to change today?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at