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How CBT tackles the root of thinking and behaviour


Guest articles > How CBT tackles the root of thinking and behaviour


by: Saj Devshi


Working as a probation worker in interventions, I deliver cognitive behavioural therapy to change the minds of some of the most hardened of criminals.

The aim of CBT is to tackle the root cause of behaviour which the cognitive approach sees as being faulty or irrational thinking processes and belief systems.

The first step towards changing someone's thinking and belief is to raise their awareness to the fact that it is their thinking which fuels their decision making. Many people don't have the self-awareness required to tune into their thinking processes, at least not until it's pointed out that its the thoughts they have in that very moment which are guiding their decision making.

A good example I use to highlight this is how road rage occurs. I ask my offender's "you're driving along and someone cuts you up - what do you think?. Usually the response is something like "Oh that d****" directed at the person who has just cut them up. So I ask them - if you think like that, how are you then likely to behave? The answer is normally they react aggressively. This highlights the link between thinking and behaviour; you think aggressively so you react aggressively.

But the thing is you don't have to think aggressively, this isn't determined in any way and a person can "choose" to think about the exact same situation differently and thus behave differently too.

I demonstrate this by asking them my next version of this question; "You're driving along now and you notice your own mother cut you up, how do you react now?". An aggressive response is highly unlikely and when queried why, they recognise their thoughts are completely different about this exact same situation for them (being cut up) because now they choose to see it differently as its their own mother. This raises their awareness as to how thinking is the key determinant and is actually under their control.

The cognitive approach explains it using a simple model known as the ABC model.

A = Activating event

B = Belief (or thoughts)

C = Consequences

The activating event is what happens to you, in our example it's being cut up by another driver. The B represents our belief systems or thoughts in that moment. If we have aggressive thoughts then this ultimately leads to C which is the consequences of that type of thinking which in this case would be aggression displayed. In short; something happens, we think, we do. All behaviour is governed by this rule according to cognitive psychology.

So who controls thinking? You do of course. You can choose to think about the same situation in a number of different ways and this is where that famous saying of "glass half empty or half full" comes from. Thoughts you experience in the moment emanate from established "belief" systems we have. These belief systems can be thought of as a set of rules we have created based on our experiences of life. Some belief systems are helpful and some are not but often we do not know or recognise the unhelpful ones choosing to see them as helpful as this sits more comfortably with us.

Therefore one of the most powerful ways to convince someone to think differently is to get them to question their own belief systems and thinking. Cognitive psychology proposes the best way to do this is by asking them 3 types of questions:

  1. Logic based questions - Ask them questions on how their belief makes sense or how logical it is to think like that.
  2. Evidence based questioning - Ask them questions on what factual evidence supports that belief or thought. Is there any evidence or support that contradicts it?
  3. Pragmatic - Ask them questions on how "helpful" it is to think like that; does it truly help them or does it hinder them in any way?

Once people become open to questioning their own beliefs, they become open to accepting another viewpoint and this is what the cognitive approach argues is key to altering a persons state of mind.

Saj Devshi is a crime fighter by day and psychology teacher by night. You can catch him teaching students on his psychology revision blog here.

His homepage is here

Contributor: Saj Devshi

Published here on: 4-Dec-17

Classification: Therapy


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