Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a set of therapies that are practical and results-oriented. CBT is designed to reduce symptoms and improve a child’s behavior, emotions and self-regulation. Through CBT, children are encouraged to recognize their own thought patterns, to notice when these patterns are helping and when they are hurting. The underlying concept behind CBT is that a child’s thoughts and feelings play a role in his or her behavior.
CBT emphasizes the connection between feelings, thoughts and behaviors and teaches coping skills and strategies to address each. It works best when the treatment strategies are practiced outside of the therapy room and when developed in collaboration with children, parents, teachers, coaches, etc.
CBT is an active and solution focused form of therapy. I will work together with your child to find coping strategies. Research has shown that CBT is very effective with anxiety and depression in children. It helps a child to turn negative or distorted thinking (“I am never good at anything I do”) into positive statements, feelings and thoughts which in turn affects behavior. The child learns how his or her thoughts, feelings and situations can contribute to maladaptive behaviors. These cognitive distortions and negative thinking play a key role in maintaining anxiety as they lead to misinterpretations of environmental threats and serve to undermine a child’s coping abilities.
Next, the child learns how his or her behaviors are contributing to the problem. For example, some children will use avoidance behavior, which is triggered by a distressing event and is then reinforced by the reduction of this distress when the situation is avoided or escaped. In this situation, CBT aims to alter maladaptive thought processes by highlighting the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviors and then cultivates new problem solving and coping skills.
Core Components of CBT for Children
Emotions education and relaxation. Parents and children are taught about the interrelationship between physiological (e.g., “where in your body do you feel…?”), cognitive and behavioral components of anxiety. We will use a variety of activities to help your child to identify feelings and to identify where they ‘feel’ a feeling in their bodes. Progressive relaxation helps anxious children to develop awareness and control over their own physical reactions to anxiety.
Cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring helps children to identify and replace distorted cognitions with more adaptive beliefs. Basic cognitive strategies include identifying and reducing negative self talk, generating positive self-statements, thought stopping, thought challenging, testing both dysfunctional and adaptive beliefs (e.g., “what is the worst thing that would happen if…?”) and then creating a coping plan for feared situations.