As the followers of my blog well know, I have been discussing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), including self-help CBT, for a few weeks now. It is time to take a look at some of the pros and cons of CBT.
Unless you are practically minded, have a problem-solving approach to life, and have clear goals, CBT is less likely to work for you.
Similarly, people who are more interested in analyzing the sources of their emotional problems, discussing the past (e.g., childhood), or focusing on biological causes of their anxiety, may be less satisfied with CBT.
CBT, especially its self-help variety, also requires work, more so than some other forms of therapy.
What kind of work? You need to review each day’s distressing events, write down your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; then evaluate your thoughts in light of the evidence, in order to determine how rational your thoughts have been. Having done so, you can consider replacing the earlier thoughts with more rational ones.
In short, CBT requires your active participation. This can be especially difficult in the beginning, when going over the anxiety-provoking events may increase your anxiety. That is why some people prefer medications alone or in conjunction with CBT, especially for more debilitating levels of anxiety.
Though you might need to make fewer notes as you progress, and might become quicker at spotting the errors in your thinking (like the ones discussed in my last post), initially the motivation and discipline to do the work are a requirement.
So what is good about CBT?
For one thing, CBT, at least on the surface, makes sense to a lot of people. Think back to the CBT triangle discussed in an earlier post. Does it not make sense that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected? That to change our emotions, it would be easier to change our thoughts (by evaluating the relevant evidence), than to change our emotions directly?
Of course, when the rationale for a form of therapy makes sense, people might feel more motivated to stick with it.
Doing (self-help) CBT exercises can also give one a sense of self-sufficiency and competence. This is especially true for people who do not believe in going for long-term therapy and those who believe that they should be able to solve their problems themselves. And according to CBT, they can.
All they need is just a few minutes, a pen and paper, and a commitment to identifying and evaluating their thoughts.
But wait a minute. Is this “pro” not just the “con” I discussed earlier, of having to do the homework? That is right! This is a positive way of looking at having to do the homework. So it really depends on your perspective, as to whether you find the work a positive or negative aspect of the treatment.
This is somewhat similar to the idea of learning to fix little things around the house: For some people it is a chore and time-consuming, but for others the sense of self-sufficiency and competence makes it all worth it. And perhaps the savings.
Speaking of savings, another advantage of CBT, especially self-help CBT, is that it is cheaper and less time-consuming than some other forms of therapy. It can also be done anytime and anywhere.
In summary, be it in the form of therapy (which usually requires homework) or as self-help, CBT requires commitment, persistence, intelligence (for evaluating thoughts), and a goal-driven and problem-solving mindset.
The rationale behind CBT appears simple enough to appeal to many people who are looking for a fairly quick and straightforward way to solve their emotional problems. For those willing and able to do CBT-related exercises on a regular basis, CBT offers freedom, convenience, and a sense of competence and autonomy.
But you need to be the one to decide.