Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is built on the belief that if we change the way we think, we can change the way we feel and behave. The idea is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. CBT has been the focus of much research and has been found to be an effective form of therapy for many mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.
While there are several strategies therapists use to help clients understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and their connection to one another, one basic and easily remembered strategy is the 3 C’s – Catch, Check, Change. As a psychologist, I teach this tool to most of my clients, and very often, they find it helpful. First, we must isolate the situation and identify feelings and behavioral responses. For example, a parent may feel frustrated, worthless, anxious, and disappointed when their child continuously does not listen to them or follow through with directives. In response, they may yell, punish harshly, or speak poorly about their child to others in front of them. With the 3 C’s technique, you can slow down and think rationally and logically in order to modify negative responses.
Step 1 – Catch Your Thought
When you catch your thought, be sure that it is the “hot” thought that is leading to the intense emotional response. To explore this, you can ask yourself, “Why is this so bad?” or “Why does this stress me out?” Once you have identified the thought that has the most intense emotional reaction, move to step 2.
Example: My children are so bad. They do nothing I say. Why is that so bad? I feel like I am always arguing with them, and no one is ever happy. Why is that so bad? Because if no one is happy. I am a bad mom (hot thought).
Step 2 – Check your thought
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is my thought helpful?
Is my thought hurtful?
Is my thought accurate/true?
What is the evidence that my thought is true or untrue?
What is the thinking trap/cognitive distortion (inaccurate thoughts to reinforce negative emotions)?
Example: If no one is happy, I am a bad mom.
Unhelpful, hurtful, inaccurate. Sometimes parents have to make tough choices to teach their children, provide structure, or keep them safe.
Distortion – all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and others.
Step 3 – Create a New Thought
A though that is unhelpful, hurtful, inaccurate, or distorted is not serving you, so create a thought that will. The easiest way to do this is to think of the advice you would give a friend or what you would like someone to say to you.
Example: Your children love you and are happy, and you know this because they hug, kiss, and tell you. They smile and play with you, each other, and others. Children can also impose their independence, and they are more likely to do this when they are tired or hungry.
There are several self-help books and workbooks to help individuals further understand CBT and to learn and utilize strategies. Or you can reach out to Better Being Connecticut for one on one CBT, and we can work through changing your hurtful thoughts and distortions to helpful and true thoughts.