Alison's journey through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Have you signed up to our online course club yet? It’s pretty simple: we all sign up to take a free course together and go deeper into the ideas in sessions facilitated by licensed therapists. The course is called “Anxiety, Depression and CBT” and it is available on FutureLearn. Scan the QR code to learn more and sign up.
In line with the topic of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT, we are publishing a piece this week by Alison, a Chinese-born 18-year-old 11th grader at Dana High School in the United States. We hope you enjoy her piece about how CBT helped her.
CBT opened my eyes to see the person that I truly am without the thoughts that used to suppress my self-esteem by stirring up difficult emotions in me.
I’ve always been the “perfect” child in almost every aspect of life, until I came to the US for high school, where I was hit by a great sense of failure. At the beginning of high school, I found that I wasn’t doing as well as before both academically and socially. Although I understood the challenging nature of adjusting to a new environment while navigating my student life, the overachieving part of myself wasn’t satisfied with any slips or mistakes. My worst critic became a voice in my head; it blamed even a slight lowering in my grade on “my stupid brain that can’t even process the most basic information in class”, and attributed the difficulty in making friends at first on me being “so unpopular that no one wants to hang out with me”. My self-esteem lowered with each word that the voice was telling me, yet I listened with an attentive ear, believing that I deserve to suffer because of how worthless I was without the great achievements and people’s compliments that I used to experience back in China.
By the time I connected with my therapist, I was already a mess, anxious about what I’d do with “my life of failure” and accusing myself of being the cause of every unfortunate thing that has happened to me.
My therapist, however, always helps me to identify my inaccurate thoughts that I took for granted as the truth. For example, I was once so ashamed about not being able to hold a conversation with a new friend that I believed that my social skills have declined. My therapist pointed out that in this case, guided by shame, I went down the path of emotional reasoning. She explained that one event doesn’t tell the whole story, so just because I experienced an awkward moment, doesn’t mean that I was doing worse socially than I did before. Introducing me to CBT helped me to recognize that instead of serving me, my intrusive thoughts can often militate against my well-being.
One practice of CBT that helped me immensely was writing down my intrusive thoughts, the emotions that stem from them, and my consequent reaction. Through regular practices, CBT took off the blindfold made of unhelpful feelings and helped me to become more aware of my thoughts, and I was finally able to dig deeper into my fundamental beliefs that gave rise to unhelpful thoughts like the one aforementioned. For me, after all, everything came down to my underlying core belief that I needed to do everything perfectly, or else I would be a failure.
As time went on, and I gradually adjusted to studying at a new school, I found that I am still the person that I was before— a learning enthusiast and that quirky one who attracts like-minded people to become friends with me. Throughout this process of rediscovering myself, CBT has been crucial in helping me to be mindful of my thoughts and beliefs and encouraging me to engage in more positive self-talk.
Our experiences are not what happens to us, but rather what we think has happened to us and what we do about it. So, I sincerely hope more people can benefit from learning about CBT, and break free from the cage of unhelpful thinking patterns.
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