Your brain lies to you

You have to be skeptical of the thoughts that your brain serves you.

There once was a boy born in the United States on July 18th, 1921 named Aaron Temkin Beck. He grew up and became a psychiatrist, and the father of cognitive therapy (and cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT for short). Cognitive therapy and CBT are used to treat a variety of psychological disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, drug abuse, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Cognitive behavioural therapy goes a step further than cognitive therapy, which solely focuses on changing your thought process, and uses things like breathing exercises and exposure therapy triggers to help a patient. When developing this therapy in the 1960s, Beck worked with depressed patients. He found that the brain delivers “automatic thoughts” that stream through a patient's brain constantly. Usually being negative thoughts, they consistently fall into three categories:

1) Negative thoughts about themselves

2) Negative thoughts about the world

3) Negative thoughts about the future   

He realised that as his patients focused on these negative thoughts, making up their core beliefs that they felt to be true, regardless of the thought being unrealistic to you or me. Thoughts, feelings, and behavior are all connected. For example, someone with depression might have a friend who calls them up to go to coffee. The depressed person will think their friend doesn’t actually want to go see them because they themselves are worthless and the friend is just being friendly out of pity or to look good to others. This will lead them to decline the invitation, and over time go out less and less. They then don’t build up any positive experiences with friends, family, and maybe even work colleagues, making it easier to focus solely on negative experiences. These thoughts go on replay becoming these “automatic thoughts” Dr Beck was talking about, and it becomes their core belief. The way to go about changing this process is by identifying and changing unhelpful or inaccurate thinking (you’re not worthless), problematic behaviour (accept the coffee invitation), and distressing emotional responses. Beck began helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and function better. He discovered that different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking, yet all distorted thoughts had negative impact on behavior no matter what disorder you had.  Depending on the severity of the mental health issue and the person, you can use self-help techniques, see a therapist or use both.

Cognitive therapy has also been applied with success to individuals with anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and many other medical and psychiatric disorders. Some of Beck's most recent work has focused on cognitive therapy for schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and for patients who are repeat suicide attempters.

While CBT does not help everyone Dr Beck's discovery has yielded the most successful form of therapy we have to date. it has been modified and developed by others into condition-specific variants but the principles he described still hold true. We use Dr Beck's principles in all our software as they are effective, easy to explain and easy for people to learn and use on themselves with and without external help.