CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Development

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is based on the straightforward notion that our behaviors are influenced by our feelings and our feelings are influenced by our beliefs. Marketing people have known this forever. That we make purchasing decisions on the basis of emotion has always been known by marketers. If, for instance, cars were purchased strictly on the basis of logic, there would only be a very few models and how much different would they look – and how boring! Beliefs and emotions are intimately entwined in everything that we do. Without feeling life is dull and meaningless. So, in this way, our feelings give our beliefs meaning.

Developmental psychology is also built on a very straightforward notion that life moves forward, never backward. Even a regression is something that is happening in a forward moving fashion. The idea of regression is our way of our understanding something that is coming unwound; it is not an actual moving backward in time.

In my practice, I mix the basics of developmental psychology and CBT. If a behavior is really going to change, then ultimately the feelings that leads to the behavior need to change and in order for that to happen the beliefs that create the feelings must change. It doesn’t matter how we get there, but get there we must.

Take the alcoholic as an example: on a very deep level he/she does not believe he/she can get through this event or that event, or the day or night, without drinking. One way to change that belief might be in backwards fashion. That is, engage in some type of behaviors which prevent drinking, having experienced positive feelings as a result it may help foster the belief that in fact he/she can live without a drink.

However, to further root that belief, it is important to understand where that belief came from. One gentleman was raised in a family who was transferred frequently. When they moved they would have a party for their neighbors. People that did not drink were not invited back again. It is simple. People that do not drink are not worth knowing. Once we understood this belief, we were able to do some reality testing. This particular person had been to many AA meetings and had met some very nice people. They did not drink and were very much worth knowing. This, combined with his experience of being able to go without a drink, and now realizing that this did not make him a person “not worth knowing,” really began to change his feelings. With these changed feelings he has been able to put together a considerable number of years alcohol free.

So, while the purists of CBT may not care about the origins of beliefs, in my practice, I’ve found it frequently very helpful to clients to get in touch with not only what they believe but why they believe it. Once that source can be examined, the belief can be pulled out by the roots and just like a weed, it is often important to do that so that the belief does not mimic a virus and mutate into another behavior that is even more damaging than the first. 

 Chuck Markham, LPC