Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence based therapy that helps teens explore the relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. CBT is an effective treatment for a wide variety of mental health disorders. CBT is appropriate for children, adolescents, and adults. The goal of CBT is to help an individual recognize their irrational or negative thought patterns and change them. As an individual’s thoughts change, their emotions and behaviors will change as well.
A core premise of CBT is that your teens' thoughts impact their emotions, which then impact their behaviors. As such, if your teen experiences significant negative and irrational thoughts, it’s likely they will also experience intense and difficult to manage emotions. These strong emotions then lead to impulsive or destructive behaviors.
However, if your teen experiences positive rational thoughts, they will likely also experience pleasant emotions and engage in adaptive and effective behaviors. Therefore, the goal of CBT for teens is to help them learn to identify and change their negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
For example, let’s say your teen texts their best friend and doesn’t get a reply back that night. If your teen experiences negative thinking patterns, they might have thoughts like “my friend hates me” or “I’ve done something wrong” or “what if something’s happened to them?”. These negative thoughts then lead to anxiety and sadness, which impact your teen’s ability to do their homework, participate in extracurricular activities, and engage with their family. CBT helps teens take a step back and look at situations more critically. Maybe their friend lost or broke their phone or maybe they were busy doing homework or at a practice. CBT helps teens learn to change their thinking patterns and not catastrophize every situation.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has shown to be effective in treating depression, trauma, problematic eating, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-esteem problems in teens, among other mental health concerns. Additionally, CBT is helpful for teens not suffering from specific mental health concerns, as it can help them develop healthy habits and thought patterns.
CBT uses several tools to help teach your teen about the connection between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Some of the most common techniques are listed below.
Cognitive restructuring helps teens identify the negative thought patterns they commonly use. Common thought patterns include all-or-none (also known as black-and-white) thinking, catastrophizing, fortune telling, personalization, and overgeneralization.
Grounding techniques are skills that help your teen stop replaying the past or worrying about the future and instead bring them back to the present moment. Grounding techniques utilize your teen’s senses to help them shift their focus.
Paced breathing is a skill that helps your teen regain control over their breathing, which helps calm down their bodies. There are many different variations of paced breathing.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another relaxation strategy that helps your teen reduce tension in their body. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing muscle groups in a set sequence to help relieve tension.
SMART goals help your teen stay on top of what’s important to them and effectively problem-solve. The acronym stands for creating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.
CBT helps teens identify ineffective and impulsive behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. For example, instead of your teen continuing to text their best friend concerned messages over the next hour, a positive behavior modification might have your teen doing some paced breathing, putting their phone on the other side of the room, and setting a timer before they can text their friend again.
Over time, CBT can help your teen learn to modify their negative thought patterns, reduce their intense emotions, and change their unhealthy behaviors. Your teen will also develop a coping skills toolkit that they can use outside of therapy to help them manage stress and have positive social interactions.
It’s really important for anyone struggling with intense emotions to get help. If your teen is having difficulty with negative thinking, know that you, and they, are not alone, and help is available to you!
The fastest way to find relief is to connect to a licensed professional specializing in evidence-based care for teens and young adults, like the therapists at Joon Care.