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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lazen

"Please. Don't believe your thoughts"

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

With the evidence-based therapy CBT, (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) clients learn to understand patterns of cognitive distortions -- (inaccurate or distorted thoughts) that cause or influence emotions, which in turn influence a reaction in the form of behavior. Through the process of CBT, therapists help people to lessen their own "suffering" (or stress, anxiety, sadness or depression) by starting from the "first thoughts" in a "chain reaction" that ends with an action or behavior that starts the cycle all over again. Actions and behaviors that are driven by negative thoughts and feelings may actually create avoidable and unwanted realities. I help people take charge of their own thoughts and feelings and change self-defeating patterns. I challenge the validity of negative thoughts, and explore belief systems that influence those thoughts. I help people expand, shift, reframe or change those belief systems. With room for new and different perspectives, people learn to challenge their own thoughts and process them through the lenses of reason, evidence and historical/social/cultural context. It feels like a mental loosening or untangling process that makes the mind a kinder safer place for the heart to take up residence. The phrase "self-fulfilling prophesy" is understood in CBT terms as the dynamic of thoughts, feelings, behaviors and their direct consequences or outcomes. Out of all the evidence-based therapeutic interventions, CBT has been among the most widely studied with varied and large populations. Empowerment, wellness, success and/or peace are the goals and potential outcomes of CBT. But, like many therapeutic modalities, it requires effort and change on the part of both therapist and client. And, like physical exercise, it requires ongoing practice to counteract the very human tendencies to think, feel and react with blame, despair, isolation, aggression, avoidance and more.

I am struck by how closely Buddhist philosophy aligns the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Thinking leads to feeling, which leads to acting. Tara Brach, a well known thinker and spiritual leader, known for her guided meditations and mindfulness practice (which has been established among social scientists as a valid and effective tool in managing mental illness and promoting wellness), urges people: "Please. Don't believe your thoughts". In this video, she is essentially promoting the principals of CBT and inviting her listeners to free themselves from the "chain reaction" of thoughts, feelings and actions. It is so interesting to me, that the elements of a spiritual practice can be found in a therapeutic process that has been widely studied and tested among social scientists around the world.

Be sure to listen to the first two minutes of her talk-- they are the most important and powerful. And the rest is wonderful too.

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