For about a decade, I went to mental health counseling intermittently. I would show up at the sessions, spill my guts for an hour, pay my good money and, for the most part, get absolutely nothing out of it. I ended up on antidepressants and still tried to commit suicide. Not too successful in my book.
I, now, realize that the whole process failed miserably because of me. I would, basically, go in there and tell them what I thought they wanted to hear. I did not paint a true picture of the real me. I did not depict everything as butterflies and rainbows, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone my deepest, ugliest secrets and let them see my darkest side. That’s the catch. You kinda have to be honest for it to work. Imagine that?!
There is recent scientific evidence showing that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) actually works and changes the brain! In their book, The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success, Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske tell of a study led by Greg Seigle which found that CBT was more effective at calming patients’ amygdalas and, hence, curbing emotional over reaction than antidepressant medication. Unlike the effects of medication, which wore off shortly after it was stopped, the effects of CBT lasted long term after the therapy ended.
CBT utilizes neuroplasticity to make permanent changes in the brain. CBT is based on the idea that changing your thoughts and feelings affects your subsequent behaviors. Making new thought and behavioral patterns recruit different neural networks and make new connections and pathways in your brain. Change your brain; change your life.
Under the direction of a trained, licensed clinician, CBT requires a person to evaluate their current behavior to identify strengths and weaknesses – honestly – and decide on specific, measurable goals.
Then, they commit to making changes in thinking and behaviors to play up strengths and limit weaknesses to reach the goals. This is the hard part. The new cognitive-behavioral skills must be practiced and implemented regularly… over and over…even when it is not easy or fun in order for the brain to make changes.
CBT is no quick fix. It can take weeks or months or even years to replace rigid thought patterns and rewire the brain. In their book, the authors make the very good point of asking you to think of how long it took to get to the state you are in, in the first place. It may take that long to see real changes to something different.
I, unknowingly, have used my own home cooked version of CBT in my recovery. I am currently in counseling, but I did not participate in any at all for the two years immediately after my suicide attempt. I also stopped taking antidepressants shortly after the attempt. Now, I feel I have a very good counselor, and I do tell the truth…in all of its messy, gory detail, and I find it very beneficial. Whadya know?
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joehoughton/