Tag Archives: cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT and Spirituality

Evening Snow Absarokee

We have a friend who is the pastor of a church in Absarokee, Montana. My impression is that she frequently talks about theories of counseling and psychotherapy . . . even though I’m sure she hasn’t planned to integrate psychological theory into her sermons. The fact that I hear psychological theories as she talks theology is just another way in which the lens of the listener frames what is heard, seen, and experienced.

Today she was preaching about feelings of inferiority. She made the case, as Adler would, that inferiority feelings are natural and normal. Then she shifted to God’s acceptance or grace. Surprisingly (to me) her focus on acceptance reminded me of Albert Ellis’s REBT and his concept of universal self-acceptance. Although my friend was speaking about God’s acceptance of all humans, regardless of our warts and behaviors, I found myself thinking of times when I’ve heard parents express deep acceptance of their children and of when clients have strived to experience greater self-acceptance.

All this brought me to a place where I started thinking about how Ellis and his REBT model might actually have a spiritual dimension. “That was pleasantly unexpected” I thought to myself . . . which prompted me to write this Sunday evening spirituality post.

The following is an excerpt (preview) from the cognitive behavior chapter of the forthcoming 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice. Please let me know what you think.

CBT and Spirituality

Like all therapists, cognitive behavior therapists work with religious or spiritual clients. Given that cognitively oriented therapists routinely identify and challenge (either through disputation or collaborative empiricism) client beliefs, there’s a risk that clients’ deeply held religious or spiritual beliefs might also be challenged. Additionally, practiced as a radical modernist scientific paradigm, CBT has been critiqued for overlooking transcendence, grace, and evil (Stewart-Sicking, 2015).

Looking at the situation logically (which cognitive theorists would appreciate), CBT practitioners have three options:

  1. Ignore client religion and spirituality.
  2. Freely challenge religious beliefs, whenever they cause emotional distress.
  3. Integrate religious/spiritual knowledge into practice in a way that supports nuanced discussions of religion and spirituality. Unhelpful or irrational thoughts might be questioned, as needed, but not central religious values (Johnson, 2013).

Historically, cognitive therapists have followed these first two options, mostly ignoring religion, or questioning its rational foundations (Andersson & Asmundson, 2006; Nielsen & Ellis, 1994). However, in the past decade or two, interest in integrating religion/spirituality into counseling and psychotherapy has increased (Stewart-Sicking, 2015).

It can help to think about client religion/spirituality as a multicultural/diversity issue. If so, the general guide is for therapists to (a) seek awareness of their own spiritual and religious attitudes and how they might affect counseling process and specific clients, (b) obtain relevant knowledge about religion/spirituality, (c) learn religion/spirituality specific skills, and (d) advocate for individuals who are oppressed on the basis of religion/spirituality as needed and as appropriate. Each of these cultural competence components can be stimulating for individual practitioners.

For practitioners interested in religion/spirituality integration with cognitive approaches, the following two areas can provide focus for further training and development.

Gain and Apply Scriptural Knowledge with Clients

Gaining knowledge regarding how to use specific religious scriptures to dispute irrational or maladaptive cognitions may seem daunting. However, from an REBT perspective, Nielsen (2001) wrote:

Since clients usually upset themselves through their awfulizing, demanding, frustration intolerance, and human rating, REBTers need only search Scriptures that decatastrophize life, suggest forbearance in the face of uncontrollable people and situations, tolerance of life’s frustrations, and that affirm basic human equality. The prominent religious writings of most major world religions emphasize such rational values. (p. 38)

Using scriptural knowledge would be most appropriate when working with clients who have similar religious beliefs. Nielsen (2001) is advocating general knowledge, but general knowledge could prove problematic. For example, if a Jewish therapist quoted the Koran to a Muslim client, the discussion might quickly shift away from being therapeutic. On the other hand, having general knowledge, if used sensitively, could represent appreciation of religious diversity and enhance the working alliance.

Use Spiritual Principles of Acceptance for Managing Disturbing Cognitions.

Contemporary CBT approaches (covered in Chapter 14) offer an alternative way of viewing and handling so-called irrational or maladaptive cognitions. These approaches include acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). ACT, DBT, and MBCT integrate religious/spiritual philosophy (e.g., Buddhism, contemplative Christian, etc.) and generally view cognitions as disturbing, but not necessarily pathological. Acceptance of all cognitions is advocated; encouraging clients to dispute or restructure their thoughts, memories, and experiences can increase suffering (Hayes, 2016).

 

Advertisements

How to Use the Six Column CBT Technique

A Description of the Six Column CBT Technique

In contrast to popular belief, CBT requires counselors to be warm and compassionate. Also, the focus of CBT is on experiential psychoeducation. Aaron Beck emphasized collaborative empiricism. Never forget that term. Collaborative empiricism is the bedrock of good CBT. It emphasizes the process of counselors and clients working together to test the accuracy and usefulness of specific thoughts and behaviors. As a therapeutic process, collaborative empiricism is also central to Person-Centered and Motivational Interviewing approaches. Remember: We want the client to have a central role in determining the usefulness and dysfunctionality of his or her cognitions and behaviors.

The six column technique is simply a procedure that helps clients and counselors organize, explore, and discover how situations, thoughts/beliefs, emotions, behaviors, and emotional/interpersonal/psychological outcomes are inter-related. This is my own particular version of the six column technique. It’s derived from the work of Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, Judith Beck, and other cognitive behavioral therapists. You can see a short clip of me using this technique at: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118402537.html

Here’s a description of the six columns:

Column #1: The Situation

BE THINKING ABOUT LINKING EMOTIONS TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

It may be that you’ll begin with whatever emotional distress the client is experiencing or reporting. Or you may begin with thoughts and beliefs that are clearly linked to specific client emotions and behaviors. Or you may begin with the situation or “trigger” for the cognitions and subsequent emotions.

Here’s an example of a situation as reported by a client:

“My in laws are staying in my home     .”

“They’re messy and lazy and I have to pick up after them”

Column #2: Automatic Thoughts and Automatic Behaviors

HELP CLIENTS SEE THAT AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS ARE OFTEN THE BRIDGE BETWEEN SITUATIONS AND EMOTIONS

Here are some examples of the automatic thoughts the clients thinks when she faces the previously described situation:

“They’re old enough to pick up after themselves.”

“Sometimes I stand in front of the television they’re watching to block their view as I pick their stuff up.”

Sometimes if “she” says she’ll do the dishes, I say, “No thanks. I want them to get done in the next two weeks.”

REMEMBER THAT AN EXPLORATION OF YOUR CLIENTS AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS OFTEN WILL SHED LIGHT ON DEEPER CORE BELIEFS ABOUT THE SELF, THE WORLD, AND THE FUTURE.

Column #3: Emotions and Sensations

SOMETIMES IT IS VERY NATURAL TO START HERE BECAUSE YOUR CLIENT’S EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS MAY BE A WAY THAT THE MIND AND BODY ARE VOICING HIS OR HER DISTRESS (or you may find the best entry point into the six column technique is somewhere else)

Here are the ratings and descriptions the client provided for column #3:

Anger = 75 (on a 0-100 scale with 0 = totally mellow and 100 = explosive distress)

Discomfort = 75

EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS MAY BE WHAT IS MOST TROUBLING TO CLIENTS AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE TYPICALLY RE-EXAMINED IN COLUMN #6: NEW OUTCOMES

Column #4: Helpful Thoughts

HELPFUL THOUGHTS ARE ALSO SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “COOL THOUGHTS.” THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE WHEN WORKING WITH ANGER AND AGGRESSION BECAUSE COOL THOUGHTS HELP CALM OR COOL OFF THE ANGER AND REDUCE THE POTENTIAL FOR AGGRESSION.

Here are some thoughts that the client identified as helpful. Helpful thoughts are often seen as adaptive or more accurate or more “rational” (which is an Albert Ellis term).

“This is important for my husband.”

“I can see this as a challenge for me to become more direct and assertive.”

“They mean well.”

A WAY OF ASKING ABOUT HELPFUL THOUGHTS IS TO JUST ASK DIRECTLY: WHAT ARE SOME THOUGHTS OR BELIEFS THAT YOU THINK WOULD BE HELPFUL TO YOU IN THIS SITUATION? YOU MAY NEED TO HELP CLIENTS WITH THIS BY PROVIDING EXAMPLES . . . BUT NOT BY TELLING THEM WHAT THEY SHOULD THINK. ENCOURAGE THEM TO FIND THEIR OWN WORDS.

Column #5: Helpful Behaviors

SIMILAR TO THE PRECEDING COLUMN, WE CAN THINK OF BEHAVIORS AS “HOT” OR “COOL” BEHAVIORS. HOT BEHAVIORS MAKE THE SITUATION AND/OR EMOTIONS WORSE; COOL BEHAVIORS MAKE THE SITUATION AND/OR EMOTIONS BETTER.

Here are some behaviors the clients said she thought might be helpful:

“I could sit down and talk with them about picking up their messes at a regular time.”

“I could ask my husband to talk with them.”

“I could go to a Yoga class two nights a week.”

WHEN IT COMES TO BOTH HELPFUL THOUGHTS AND HELPFUL BEHAVIORS, IT’S USEFUL TO THINK OF THEM AS OCCURRING (A) BEFORE, (B) DURING, OR (c) AFTER THE SITUATION ARISES. SOME BEHAVIORS (E.G., GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP) HELP THE SITUATION AS A PROACTIVE OR PREVENTATIVE ACTION. OTHER BEHAVIORS (E.G., DEEP BREATHING) MAY BE CRUCIAL DURING THE SITUATION. STILL OTHER BEHAVIORS (E.G., VENTING TO A FRIEND OR PROVIDING SELF-REINFORCEMENT) MAY BE HELPFUL AFTER THE SITUATION IS OVER.

Column #6: New Outcomes

AFTER IMPLEMENTING THE HELPFUL COGNITIONS AND HELPFUL BEHAVIORS, IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO RE-EVALUATE THE CLIENT’S EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS (OR DISTRESS).

In this case, the client provided the following ratings:

Anger = 40

Discomfort = 40

ONE OF THE GOALS OF CBT IS TO REDUCE DISTRESS AND REDUCE SYMPTOMS AND MAKE LIFE A LITTLE BETTER. YOU MAY NOT CREATE VAST IMPROVEMENTS, BUT IMPROVEMENTS ARE IMPROVEMENTS. THIS IS ALSO JUST THE BEGINNING OF CBT (OR WHATEVER APPROACH YOU’RE USING) BECAUSE THE WHOLE POINT IS THAT LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT AND THAT WE COLLABORATIVELY AND INTERACTIVELY ARE HELPING CLIENTS TRY OUT NEW THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS THAT MAY (OR MAY NOT) LEAD TO IMPROVEMENT. AND IF THE IMPROVEMENT ISN’T OPTIMAL . . . THE CBT WAY IS TO GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING AND REWORK THE PROCESS TO SEE IF FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS CAN OCCUR.

CBT Tips

Here are a few tips on how to integrate CBT in your work.

Some counselors or mental health professionals resist using CBT and complain that it’s too sterile or too educational or not focused enough on feelings. Basically, I think this is a cop-out similar to CBT folks who say that person-centered therapy is ineffective. My belief (and I think it’s rational and so it must be (smiley face) is that when mental health professionals don’t understand how to implement a particular approach, they blame the approach rather than admitting their lack of knowledge or skill. Instead, I encourage you to try this six column CBT model, but use it with whatever other model you prefer. In other words, you can be a person-centered CBT person or an existential CBT person . . . especially if you just use this six column technique as a means for exploring and understanding different dimensions of your client’s personal experience.

Goal-setting is essential to counseling. From the CBT perspective, goal-setting is initiated by generating a problem list. However, your IR clients may not have a problem listJ. That’s why you may need to use your excellent active listening skills to help your clients focus in on a distressing emotion. Then you can begin with the distressing or disturbing emotion and build the six columns from there.

Good CBT involves adopting an experimental mindset (never forget collaborative empiricism). All you’re doing is helping your client look at his/her daily experiences and identify patterns. It helps to organize the client’s experience into Situation, Automatic Thoughts/Behaviors, Emotions and Sensations, Helpful (Cool) Thoughts, Helpful (Cool) Behaviors, and New Outcomes. You can explore these common dimensions of human experience collaboratively.

It’s very important to know and remember that giving behavioral assignments can be disastrous. This is part of why a good CBT counselor is better than a technician. If you’re brainstorming possible helpful behaviors, your client (and you) may zero in on a behavior that, if enacted, has a strong possibility of a negative outcome. New behaviors expose clients to risk. The risk may be worth it; but there also may be too much risk.

Avoid asking questions like: “Have you thought about talking directly to your in-laws?” This sort of question implies that your client should talk directly to the in-laws. It’s better to step back and brainstorm behavioral options with your client. Then, emphasize that behavioral goals must always be in the client’s control. Then, after your nice list of behavioral options has been generated, you can look at the different options and engage in “consequential thinking.” In other words, you ask your client to explore the possibilities of what is likely to happen if: “You (the client) directly confront the in-laws about their messy behaviors? “ (See sample six column worksheet).

There are many ways you can get to your client’s underlying core beliefs or cognitive dynamics. For example, you could ask: “What stops you from telling them to pick up after themselves?” The client might respond with a different emotion and new content (e.g., I’m afraid of getting into a conflict). You can pursue this further: “What is it about being in conflict makes it scary?” She might say, “I’m afraid my husband will side with them and leave me.” As a consequence, this conflict is viewed as something she needs to manage independently and gets at a deeper schema: “I must keep the peace and deal with everything or bad things (e.g., abandonment) will happen.” There are two problems with this: (a) If she overfunctions she feels angry and acts passive-aggressively; and (b) there may be truth to this schema/belief. This is why we can’t just push her into being assertive. We must always keep the corrective emotional experience rule in mind. New behavioral opportunities need to be free from the likelihood of re-traumatization.

What You Missed in Cincinnati: Part II

While in Cincinnati, I ran short on time and we missed a chance to watch a video clip on “Generating Behavioral Alternatives.” And so as a substitute, I’m posting the verbatim script of the clip we were supposed to watch, and although we’ll miss out on discussing, the clip is fun on its own. Here it’s an excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories book and placed in the context of “Problem-Solving Therapy.”

Generating Behavioral Alternatives With an Aggressive Adolescent

As noted previously, problem-solving therapy (PST) focuses on teaching clients steps for rational problem solving. In this case vignette, the therapist (John) is trying to engage a 15-year-old White male client in stage 2 (generating solutions) of the problem-solving model. At the beginning of the session, he client had reported that the night before, a male schoolmate had tried to rape his girlfriend. The client was angry and planning to “beat the s*** out” of his fellow student. During the session, John worked on helping the boy identify behavioral alternatives to retributive violence.

The transcript below begins 10 minutes into the session.

Boy: He’s gotta learn sometime.

JSF: I mean. I don’t know for sure what the absolute best thing to do to this guy is . . . but I think before you act, it’s important to think of all the different options you have.

Boy: I’ve been thinking a lot.

JSF: Well, tell me the other ones you’ve thought of and let’s write them down so we can look at the options together.

Boy: Kick the shit out of him.

JSF: Okay, I know 2 things, actually maybe 3, that you said. One is kick the [crap] out of him, the other one is to do nothing . . .

Boy: The other is to shove something up his a**.

JSF: And, okay—shove—which is kinda like kicking the s*** out of him. I mean to be violent toward him. [Notice John is using the client’s language.]

Boy: Yeah, Yeah.

JSF: So, what else?

Boy: I could nark on him.

JSF: Oh.

Boy: Tell the cops or something.

JSF: And I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do either. [Although John thinks this is a better option, he’s trying to remain neutral, which is important to the brainstorming process; if the client thinks John is trying to “reinforce” him for nonviolent or prosocial behaviors, he may resist brainstorming.]

Boy: That’s just stupid. [This response shows why it’s important to stay neutral.]

JSF: I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do . . . all I’m saying is that we should figure out, cause I know I think I have the same kind of impulse in your situation. Either, I wanna beat him up or kinda do the high and righteous thing, which is to ignore him. And I’m not sure. Maybe one of those is the right thing, but I don’t know. Now, we got three things—so you could nark on him. [John tries to show empathy and then encourages continuation of brainstorming.]

Boy: It’s not gonna happen though.

JSF: Yeah, but I don’t care if that’s gonna happen. So there’s nark, there’s ignore, there’s beat the s**. What else?

Boy: Um. Just talk to him, would be okay. Just go up to him and yeah . . . I think we need to have a little chit-chat. [The client is able to generate another potentially prosocial idea.]

JSF: Okay. Talk to him.

Boy: But that’s not gonna happen either. I don’t think I could talk to him without, like, him pissing me off and me kicking the s*** . . . [Again, the client is making it clear that he’s not interested in nonviolent options.]

JSF: So, it might be so tempting when you talk to him that you just end up beating the s*** out of him. [John goes back to reflective listening.]

Boy: Yeah. Yeah.

JSF: But all we’re doing is making a list. Okay. And you’re doing great. [This is positive reinforcement for the brainstorming process—not outcome.]

Boy: I could get someone to beat the s*** out of him.

JSF: Get somebody to beat him up. So, kind of indirect violence—you get him back physically—through physical pain. That’s kind of the approach.

Boy: [This section is censored.]

JSF: So you could [do another thing]. Okay.

Boy: Someone like . . .

JSF: Okay. We’re up to six options. [John is showing neutrality or using an extinction process by not showing any affective response to the client’s provocative maladaptive alternative that was censored for this book.]

Boy: That’s about it. . . .

JSF: So. So we got nark, we got ignore, we got beat the s*** out of him, we got talk to him, we got get somebody else to beat the shit out of him, and get some. . . . [Reading back the alternatives allows the client to hear what he has said.]

Boy: Um . . . couple of those are pretty unrealistic, but. [The client acknowledges he’s being unrealistic, but we don’t know which items he views as unrealistic and why. Exploring his evaluation of the options might be useful, but John is still working on brainstorming and relationship-building.]

JSF: We don’t have to be realistic. I’ve got another unrealistic one. I got another one . . . Kinda to start some shameful rumor about him, you know. [This is a verbally aggressive option which can be risky, but illustrates a new domain of behavioral alternatives.]

Boy: That’s a good idea.

JSF: I mean, it’s a nonviolent way to get some revenge.

Boy: Like he has a little dick or something.

JSF: Yeah, good, exactly. [John inadvertently provides positive reinforcement for an insulting idea rather than remaining neutral.]

Boy: Maybe I’ll do all these things.

JSF: Combination.

Boy: Yeah.

JSF: So we’ve got the shameful rumor option to add to our list.

Boy: That’s a good one. (Excerpted and adapted from J. Sommers-Flanagan & R. Sommers-Flanagan, 1999)

This case illustrates what can occur when therapists conduct PST and generate behavioral solutions with angry adolescents. Initially, the client appears to be blowing off steam and generating a spate of aggressive alternatives. This process, although not producing constructive alternatives, is important because the boy may be testing the therapist to see if he will react with judgment (during this brainstorming process it’s very important for therapists to remain positive and welcoming of all options, no matter how violent or absurd; using judgment can be perceived and experienced as a punishment, which can adversely affect the therapy relationship). As the boy produced various aggressive ideas, he appeared to calm down somewhat. Also, the behavioral alternatives are repeatedly read back to the client. This allows the boy to hear his ideas from a different perspective. Finally, toward the end, the therapist joins the boy in brainstorming and adds a marginally delinquent response. The therapist is modeling a less violent approach to revenge and hoping to get the boy to consider nonphysical alternatives. This approach is sometimes referred to as harm reduction because it helps clients consider less risky behaviors (Marlatt & Witkiewitz, 2010). Next steps in this problem-solving process include:

  • Decision making
  • Solution implementation and verification

As the counseling session proceeds, John employs a range of different techniques, including “reverse advocacy role playing” where John plays the client and the client plays the counselor and provides “reasons or arguments for [particular attitudes] being incorrect, maladaptive, or dysfunctional” (A. M. Nezu & C. M. Nezu, 2013).

A Quick Look at the Collaborative Cognitive Therapy Process

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is arguably the most evidence-based of all counseling and psychotherapy approaches. With roots in Adlerian therapy and substantial influences from Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and others, the cognitive component of CBT involves therapists working with clients to help develop awareness of automatic thoughts — thoughts that have an adverse or maladaptive affect on client emotions and behaviors. Once clients have awareness of their automatic and maladaptive thinking, cognitive therapists work collaboratively with clients to question the usefulness of the thoughts, possibly even actively disputing them, and eventually revising or replacing them with more adaptive or helpful thoughts.

This past spring and summer, Rita and I produced a DVD with demonstrations of 11 different theory-based counseling and psychotherapy approaches. Our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, recently posted a clip (or teaser) of this cognitive therapy video. In the clip I’m demonstrating the five column technique popularized by Albert Ellis. What I think is most interesting about this clip is the how the five column technique is used as a platform for exploring the client’s anxiety . . . while at the same time, a unique, spontaneous, and collaborative relationship between therapist and client is developing.

If you like, you can watch this video clip at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8hNDHoyDU&list=UUDoXxitLiq5PMruS7AbBJbA&index=1&feature=plcp