The clinicians at Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) use a wide range of techniques based on the goals and unique characteristics of each individual client. One of the most widely used psychological treatments because of its effectiveness and relative simplicity is cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that can help you identify negative beliefs (called cognitive distortions), increase awareness and understanding of these beliefs and how they affect your behavior, and change your thinking into something more positive.
For example, a client might say, “Nobody loves me. Nobody cares about me.”
The clinician might respond to such as a statement by asking, “Whose voice is that? Is that what you believe, or is that a belief that you’ve learned from someone else?”
By using CBT to identify and challenge the negative belief, the client can learn problem-solving skills to change the response into something more positive and develop more self-confidence.
Suppose the client’s automatic thought when looking in the mirror is, “I’m overweight. I don’t like how I look.”
Instead of focusing on the negative thought, CBT can teach the client to focus on the fact that they’ve adjusted their diet and are going to the gym to become healthier. This shifts the perspective into more positive thoughts and behaviors. Instead of focusing on weight, they learn to focus on their healthier lifestyle.
Mindfulness is the ability to stay fully present and aware of your current circumstances and surroundings to avoid becoming overwhelmed by, or overreacting to, a situation. Every individual is capable of mindfulness but there are techniques for cultivating that ability.
NFSB clinicians will often incorporate mindfulness into CBT, showing clients how to use breathing exercises, meditation, and grounding exercises once they’ve identified that they’re in an anxious or stressful state.
“CBT spins thoughts and behaviors from negative to positive and gets you in the right frame of mind,” said Staela Keegan, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC), and Senior Clinical Supervisor at NFSB. “Being able to look around the room, get yourself grounded, stay in the moment, and calm yourself down allows you to cope with stressful situations as they come.”
CBT has been used to successfully treat mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and trauma. Of course, you can benefit from CBT even if you don’t have a mental health disorder. Many people go to counseling for temporary additional support when they’re going through a stressful time.
“We want to help you feel better now,” Staela said. “Many people believe a therapist will force them to dredge up their entire history, which can be a traumatizing experience in itself. CBT allows us to make progress in a very short period of time.”
When you learn to become more aware of stressful situations and transform negative thoughts and behaviors into something positive, you can begin applying these principles on your own in all areas of your life.
“You don’t have to be in a therapy room to work on it,” Staela said. “Techniques like CBT are teachable. For example, we might suggest writing down a list of negative beliefs and the dialogue that happens in your head in certain situations. In the next session, we can go over your list and create a corresponding list of positive beliefs. We also recommend books and videos to help you help yourself. Clients often see a big difference very quickly.”
A key benefit of CBT is that it’s a very practical, understandable form of therapy. Many clients embrace CBT, begin using it right away, and share how they’ve experienced positive changes – not just through one-on-one counseling, but by applying what they learn every day.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of a mental health disorder or simply needs support to get through a rough patch, please contact the Mental Health Program at NFSB and schedule an appointment. In-person and telehealth appointments are available, and we will always respect your privacy. Visit our website or call 973-667-1884.