Inspiring Thoughts from EAC

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

By: Nanette Kerwick, LMSW, CEAP, CAADC EAC Clinical Specialist — Do you wonder what the word therapy or counseling really means? Do you feel uncomfortable with the thought of talking to someone about your personal business? While there are stories about people who have been wronged by a therapist, most therapists are trustworthy and take confidentiality seriously.

At Employee Assistance Center (EAC), we take these concerns very seriously. As a therapist, I try to work with my clients as I would like someone to work with me or my family member who was in distress. I would want to know if this person is going to be helpful.

It is in that spirit, that I would like to talk with you about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While it is not the only form of therapy we practice, it is the most common form.  It is also the most widely researched.  CBT is an evidence-based type of therapy.  That means it has been proven to be helpful for people in many different types of situations. It helps people who are stuck in those feelings of distress and helps them change behavior and thought patterns that keep them stuck. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counselors help you identify the negative thoughts and replace them with more adaptive and helpful ones.

For example, I might have someone come to me because they feel guilty about their relationship with their Mother. Mom is needy and has health problems. Mom is reluctant to reach out and do something different, even if it would be helpful. She relies on her children for everything. Mom is capable of doing some things but relies on her children to the point where they are becoming overwhelmed – emotionally and financially. It is damaging to their relationship because of the fear of setting limits and boundaries and feeling guilty by doing that. It seems like nothing is good enough.

In this situation, I would discuss with the client how they feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I would teach them to be more aware of their emotions and to distinguish healthy from unhealthy feelings. Then, we would look at understanding how the distorted perceptions and thoughts lead to painful feelings. For example, the client may feel that if they don’t do everything their Mom demands of them, they are a bad child. The client is trying to be “perfect” when they are only human.  They may need some time to themselves or do things to get their own needs met. The symptoms of guilt and feeling stuck will usually start to get better once they realize how the thoughts are affecting them.  They can then start to come up with alternative thoughts.

  • “I am only human.”
  • “Mom has to hear how I am feeling and needs to be more respectful of my limits.”
  • “It doesn’t mean I don’t love her; it just means I am only able to do so much at this time.”

The symptoms usually get better at that time and people can think more clearly. They are giving themselves options.

We then would discuss problem solving options and resources to check into, so they can feel like things are moving forward. Further down the road, we will talk about how to develop self-control by teaching specific techniques to identify and challenge the distorted thinking.

At that time, we may also talk about the core beliefs that are at the heart of their suffering in order to prevent future episodes of personal distress. This can also help the client develop better coping skills. For instance, the client may think that they are only worthwhile because they can be helpful to Mom or other people. The client’s identity may be that of a helper but there is a lot more than that role. Getting a sense of self-esteem from being a helper is not a bad thing but is very limiting and unpredictable. Sometimes you are unable to help people; the best laid plans go wrong. The client may have to develop more of an identity and positive self-esteem in order to not fall into that stuck place again.

I hope this brief explanation has been helpful. There is a lot written about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The best resource I recommend is the National Institute on Mental Health. It is a comprehensive look at all the latest information on mental health research, etc. It is very accessible and easy to read. If you have questions about this approach to therapy or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact EAC at 1-800-227-0905 or

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