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What is Cognitive Therapy?

The basis of cognitive therapy is that, as is the case with adults, a young person's thoughts can influence feelings and that emotional responses to situations come from his/her interpretation of that situation. An example is provided below.

Imagine that your child is experiencing the sensations of his/her heart racing and shortness of breath. If these physical symptoms occurred while he/she was sitting quietly in class they would likely be attributed to some medical condition, such as a heart or asthma attack, and may cause him or her to become fearful and anxious. In contrast, if these physical symptoms occurred while running around in gym class, they likely would not be attributed to a medical ailment, and may not lead to fear or anxiety. In short, different interpretations of the same sensations could lead to entirely different emotions.

Cognitive therapy suggests that, for individuals of all ages, many of our emotions are due to our thinking (i.e., the ways that we have perceived or interpreted our environments). Sometimes these thoughts may be biased or distorted. For instance, an adolescent might interpret an ambiguous phone message as suggesting interpersonal rejection, or physical symptoms as suggesting a medical problem. Others may set unrealistic expectations for themselves, or harbor pervasive concerns regarding their acceptance among others. These types of thoughts can contribute to distorted, biased, or illogical thinking processes that then affect feelings.

In cognitive therapy, children, adolescents, and their families learn to:

  • Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.
  • Become aware of the ways in which thoughts can influence feelings in ways that sometimes are not helpful.
  • Learn about thoughts that seem to occur automatically, without even realizing how they may affect emotions.
  • Evaluate critically whether these "automatic" thoughts and assumptions are accurate, or perhaps biased.
  • Develop the skills to notice, interrupt, and correct these biased thoughts independently.

 

 
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