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Our emotions, thoughts, and behavior are inextricably linked. When any one of these components is altered, it affects all the others in the system. When people are depressed or anxious, usually thoughts, behavior, and emotion are in a negative feedback loop, feeding off one another, and maintaining the negative mood state. Cognitive restructuring is a treatment designed to help people recognize and significantly alter thought patterns, as a way of shaking up the emotion system and reversing the course of depression and anxiety. Cognitive Restructuring is a useful tool for understanding and reacting differently to the thinking patterns that negatively influence our mood and behavior.
There are numerous methods to identifying and altering dysfunctional thought patterns. Generally, they all begin with identifying automatic thoughts, those thoughts which provide a running commentary to our experience. Instead of accepting all of these thoughts as accurate reflections of reality, the cognitive therapist helps the patient to learn to think of these thoughts as guesses about what is really going on, and consider alternate points of view. In this way, the client is able to develop a more balanced way of thinking about whatever is causing him or her distress.
For example, in the case of someone with depression, because of the negative feedback loop between thoughts, emotions, and behavior, the depressed person’s thoughts tend to be pessimistic, filtered through “smoke-colored lenses.” This results in negative emotions such as sadness and despair. These thoughts and emotions make it more difficult for the person to call a friend, do his/her best at work, or engage in activities that normally improve that person’s mood. By looking at the dysfunctional thoughts associated with the depression, and seeing them as guesses, that person is better able to consider other points of view about his or her situation, leading to less hopelessness and sadness, which in turn results in more behaviors that promote happiness and satisfaction.
There is a good deal of research supporting the effectiveness of cognitive restructuring with a number of psychological problems. These include phobias, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and alcohol and drug problems, to name a few.