Self-care is a pretty trendy topic these days. July 24th marked the 10th anniversary of International Self-Care Day, and there's no shortage of graphics on Instagram telling you to “take it one day at a time”.
It’s amazing to see this shift in perspective when we look at the world around us. But a lot of the time when it comes to mental health, bubble baths and wellness products just don’t cut it.
The reality is that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. That includes common conditions, like anxiety and depression – as well as things like mood disorders, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. Whether you have a diagnosable condition or just need someone to talk to, one thing’s for sure: no amount of self-care nights can outweigh the impact of working with a good therapist.
Miranda Klimowsi is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) who works at our clinic in downtown Toronto. Out of the therapy methods she’s trained in, one she uses the most frequently with clients is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In our recent blog with Miranda, we discussed what CBT is and how it works. In today’s post, we'll be talking about 5 mental health conditions it can treat. But first, here’s a recap of the basics to jog your memory!
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy. It’s commonly used by psychotherapists like Miranda as well as other mental health professionals, like registered social workers.
The goal of CBT is to help clients identify and challenge their negative thought patterns. “It’s a psychotherapeutic type of intervention that really helps people understand how their thoughts, feelings and beliefs are all interconnected,” Miranda explains.
CBT isn’t done in a cookie-cutter way. A therapist will facilitate organic conversations with the goal of understanding your core beliefs. They’ll also learn more about the cognitive distortions you deal with (I.e., thinking too much about the future or catastrophizing real-life events).
Once the negative thought patterns have been identified, a therapist will work with you to challenge them and change your perspective. Questions like, “Is this a feeling or a fact?” and “What would a third party say about the situation?” are common in CBT.
“It can take anywhere from 6 to 20 sessions,” Miranda says. “It depends on the severity of the problem. But essentially, we spend that time challenging those core beliefs, looking at the cognitive distortions and identifying how much of it is just an automatic behavior.”
It’s common to think negatively without even realizing you’re doing it. And the more this happens, the more it becomes a pattern. CBT can give you the tools and skills to change the way you think, ultimately allowing you to feel better more often.
Let’s take a look at how CBT can help people struggling with different types of mental health conditions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions that people experience these days. There’s a difference between experiencing anxiety and having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which we explored in detail in this previous blog post. Regardless of what situation you’re in, CBT can effectively help you.
A common habit in people with anxiety is fortune-telling – described by Miranda as frequently thinking about the future. For example, a person who’s afraid of flying might have thoughts such as:
- The plane is going to crash.
- I’m not safe when I’m flying.
- I’m going to get hurt.
Their mind is fixated on things that haven’t happened yet, which can snowball into even more anxiety. CBT can teach anxious people to shift their thinking back to what they can control.
“We would look at that fortune-telling, and then look at how we can help the client gain more control over their emotions and feelings,” Miranda says. “It gives them a little bit more power over themselves and their thoughts.”
Another common habit in anxious people is catastrophizing. For example, someone with a social anxiety disorder might think their friend is mad at them because she seemed less friendly than usual one day. They might think things like:
- I bet Melissa is mad at me.
- I must have done something wrong.
- She probably doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.
Their mind is busy jumping from one conclusion to the next, assuming the worst about the situation without facts to back it up.
“Again, we would help that person focus on what they can control – which is how they feel and react. They can’t control what the other person does, and maybe Melissa was just having a bad day! CBT can teach you the coping skills to avoid having these things blow up in the future.”
Regardless of the types of maladaptive thoughts your anxiety produces, it’s worth considering therapy so you can begin to overcome them. Remember, our thoughts are a habit as much as brushing our teeth or eating a healthy breakfast. We can train ourselves to think differently, it just requires time and effort.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression
Depression is another common mental health condition. It’s important to point out, however, that CBT is recommended for people with situational depression rather than a major depressive disorder. There’s a big difference between the two.
“Situational depression could be brought up from something like a break-up,” she shares. “It’s difficult to deal with, but because it’s situational that means it’s more temporary. There’s more workability in that sense.”
In comparison, clinical depression is characterized as feeling down or depressed for more than two weeks. Symptoms are persistent and can greatly interfere with your day-to-day life. A person with clinical depression can feel this way for months or even years – which is why CBT isn't usually the first approach a therapist will use.
“If someone has chronic depression, it’s really hard to see that there’s going to be a better tomorrow. I find it really hard to sit with those clients and be like, “Let’s challenge these negative thoughts!”. They’re very in their minds so it’s really challenging to see that it’s not a reality.”
If you or someone you know is battling depression, there are ways to get help. A therapist like Miranda who is skilled in CBT and other therapy modalities will cater each session to your unique needs.
As we mentioned, anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses – but there are many others that CBT can help with. Here are three more examples that Miranda told us about.
There are a lot of conditions that fall under the category “mood disorders” including seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Miranda shared with us an example of how CBT can help someone with BPD.
“A lot of individuals who suffer from BPD have problems emotionally regulating, and sometimes with impulsive behavior,” she explains. “So again, what CBT can do is help those people control those impulsive behaviors and emotional regulations.”
For example, someone with BPD might be inclined to go on a big shopping spree that they can’t afford. A therapist could help them reflect on the thoughts that led up to that decision. They could also teach that person some grounding and coping skills to bring them back into the moment if it happens again.
Miranda points out that someone with a mood disorder may also be dealing with anxiety or depression. Every person’s case is different, which again emphasizes why therapy is done in an individualized way.
“It’s important to remember that CBT isn’t just thought-based, it’s also feeling based. It’s about teaching clients how to deal with those intensities and understand how they’re connected to their thoughts.”
Another condition that CBT can help with is schizophrenia. As outlined by the Canadian Association of Mental Health, it’s a “complex mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves and relates to others.”
Because of its complexity, Miranda emphasizes that CBT is best used for people who have mild to moderate symptoms. For someone who experiences auditory hallucinations (hears different voices in their head), CBT can help them identify their own voice from the others.
“It’s also about working with that client to understand the impact those voices have on their feelings, and again, on their behaviors. When we create that adaption over time, it helps lower the intensity of those voices,” she adds.
This one’s a big one – as in, there are a lot of reasons why someone might experience low self-esteem. It can also manifest differently in their patterns of behavior.
For people who struggle with eating disorders, for instance, self-esteem is often at the root of the problem. It may also stem from childhood trauma or a traumatic incident, like a divorce.
Working through self-esteem issues can improve the way you present yourself and how you interact with others. Once again, a therapist will help you challenge your core beliefs (I.e., “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a failure”, “I’m not good-looking") so you can build healthier patterns of thought.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques
It would be unrealistic to think that you can attend therapy once and immediately feel better. Developing new ways of thinking requires time, effort and patience – but you’ll always get out what you put in.
“If you only come to therapy once every 2 weeks, that’s not a lot of time to be practicing CBT. That’s why a lot of it is very home-focused. It’s about staying in the present moment outside of the therapy room too, and putting in the effort to practice what you’re learning.”
One technique a therapist might use is getting the client to keep a thought record. The person would keep track of their thoughts, such as:
- Today I went to the mall and bumped into somebody by accident.
- Now I’m afraid that person hates me.
- I feel bad about myself. I can never do anything right.
In their next session, the therapist might respond to the thought log by asking questions such as:
- “What would someone else say about the situation?”
- "Are these facts or feelings?”
- “How could you react differently next time?”
You can speak with your therapist directly to learn more about the CBT techniques they use and whether a thought record might help you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Online
Now that we’ve covered 5 mental health conditions CBT can treat, let’s talk a bit about what options you have for meeting with a therapist.
One of the great things about today’s digital world is that cognitive behavioral therapy is available online. Many therapists, like Miranda, offer virtual counselling services. Some of the reasons you might wish to attend therapy online include:
- You don't have time to commute to a clinic in downtown Toronto.
- You feel more comfortable attending therapy in your own home.
- You like the idea of meeting with a therapist via video chat.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Toronto
Of course, you can also meet with a therapist and receive cognitive behavioral therapy in Toronto. At HealthOne, we have two private and comfortable therapy rooms located in our Wellness Clinic. Some reasons you might wish to attend therapy in-person include:
- You live in downtown Toronto (or don’t mind commuting! We’re easily accessible via the TTC and the PATH.)
- You feel more comfortable attending therapy at a clinic.
- You like the idea of meeting with a therapist face-to-face.
Whether you choose online or in-person therapy, you’re taking a commendable step in the right direction. It’s difficult to deal with any of the mental health conditions listed above, a combination of them, or any other struggles you might be facing.
At HealthOne, we’re here to remind you that life can get better and our team is here to help.
Miranda offers cognitive behavioral therapy in Toronto along with our many other registered mental health professionals. Your first visit is free and requires no further commitment – it’s simply a 15-minute consultation to meet a therapist, get a feel for their working style, and ask any questions you have.
One Life. Live Inspired.