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Much of the work I do as a counsellor is based on one of the core premises of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy [CBT], that how we “talk” to ourselves has a significant impact on how we feel and how we behave. My experience, and the experience of many of the people I work with, is that while this concept “makes sense”, it can be challenging to actually apply it in the moment. This is a reflection about how running has provided me with the perfect platform to develop my ability to engage in adaptive or positive self-talk. It has also provided me with a good metaphor for understanding some of the subtleties of engaging in more adaptive self-talk which I hope will help you the reader better understand these subtleties as well.

BUT I AM ACTUALLY TIRED ?

At several points during any run, I am aware that I feel “tired” and feel a little tug to just stop. Of course, this makes total sense, given that I am demanding more energy from my body than I do during my other day-to-day activities. I am also likely feeling the tug to stop because I am depleting more energy and doing so rapidly. So, the feeling or sensation of fatigue is real. If I focus on only the ‘Truth’ of the statement, “I feel tired”, I may conclude that “Yes I am tired and therefore I should stop”. However, if I take a “True, but…” approach, I may be able to make an adaptive choice that allows me to meet “higher goals” like being healthier, rather than making a reactive choice that feels better in the moment but one that limits my growth, potentially leading to feelings of regret or shame. A few examples of the type of ‘True, but….’ statements I usually make include:

“Yes, I’m tired, but I always manage to break through that wall.

Maybe I’ll adjust my pace myself a bit and focus on the music in my headphones instead of my energy level right now.

I’m out here now so I might as well stick with it”.

When I engage in this type of self-talk, I am not only much more likely to follow through on my higher goals and finish the run, but I also ‘feel’ better because I have shifted my mental focus. This use of “True, but…” statements is an example of the type of adaptive self-talk that running has allowed me to develop.

MORE THAN ‘TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN’

I think this small example addresses one of the common misconceptions about Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, which is that it simply requires us to “think positive!!!”, using self-talk equivalent to “turn that frown upside down”. However, the CBT approach to challenging and changing self-talk is much more subtle than this. Rather than requiring people to ignore the event in their life which is causing them discomfort, CBT challenges us to talk to ourselves about that event in a way that acknowledges that we are uncomfortable, but places that discomfort in a context which makes us less likely to emotionally respond to it in a reactive way. Coming back to the example of running, I can acknowledge that I am a little tired in my self-talk – and indeed it may be important to do so in order to make a subtle adjustment like slowing my pace slightly. Trying to “turn that frown upside down” by ignoring the fact that I am tired might prevent me from making an important adjustment. More importantly, in focusing on how I don’t want to feel (“I’m not tired…I’m not tired…I’m not tired”), I am ironically keeping my attention on my “tiredness”, rather than shifting my focus to something else – my music in this example. Thus, I try to engage in self-talk that briefly acknowledges my discomfort, but also reminds me of reasons and strategies for not reacting to that discomfort.





















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ADAPTIVE SELF-TALK

An example of how to apply this in day to day life may be helpful at this point. Since CBT is commonly used for addressing anxiety, depression or anger – I will choose an example which could potentially trigger feelings of anxiety, depression or anger in many people. Imagine you apply for a job within your place of work and you do not get that job. How you talk to yourself about his event will have a significant effect on how you feel and then behave. For instance, if you say to yourself the following statements;

“It figures – I’m not really that smart or talented. I didn’t get that job and I probably won’t get any job I apply for…..”, you are of course likely to feel depressed/sad – and possibly even anxious about your future. If you say to yourself, “I can’t believe they hired ____ instead of me! I totally deserved that job and it is so unfair that ______ got it!”,

These types of self-talk, from a cognitive-behavioural perspective, are ‘maladaptive’ because they fuel negative emotions and they really limit strategies for moving forward.

So, a self-talk along the lines of, “I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get the job. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t get it and I can’t change that, but I might be able to learn something from it I wonder if I can contact somebody to see if there’s anything I could have done differently to get the job? ”. This, ‘True, but…” approach acknowledges the discomfort of not getting the job, yet does not get “stuck” in the discomfort and instead moves on to strategies for moving forward. This thinking style can greatly improve employment opportunities.

To summarize, it is important to acknowledge that changing our self-talk is just one strategy among many which we can use to change how we feel and behave. Certainly, CBT is about more than self-talk and CBT is not the magic cure to all of our problems. Coming back to running, engaging in adaptive self-talk will not make up for lack of training, poor diet and health choices nor will it allow me to suddenly run a marathon tomorrow when I have never run further than 10 kilometers. However, learning how to engage in adaptive self-talk can be a very powerful tool to combine with other strategies in the worthwhile pursuit of feeling and behaving healthier.

To further explore CBT strategies for feeling and behaving better, contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.


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We may fear heights (acrophobia), close spaces (claustrophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), or even public places (agoraphobia). But how do these fears develop? Psychotherapists may believe that presenting phobias act as a defensive mechanism against a more underlying area of anxiety, which is fueled by unconscious, repressed impulses. Behaviourists usually discard the content of phobias and instead focus on what role or how the phobia functions in the person’s life. Cognitive theorists will look into how people’s thoughts can heighten, lower, maintain and reduce their fear.

phobia – noun    (Mirriam-Webster’s Concise Encyclopedia Definition)

“Extreme and irrational fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. A phobia is classified as a type of anxiety disorder (a neurosis), since anxiety is its chief symptom. Phobias are generally believed to result when fear produced by an original threatening situation (such as a near-drowning in childhood) is transferred to other similar situations (such as encounters with bodies of water), the original fear often being repressed or forgotten. Behaviour therapy can be helpful in overcoming phobias, the phobic person being gradually exposed to the anxiety-provoking object or situation in a way that demonstrates that no threat really exists.”

There is also evidence that suggests genetic factors that may predispose some to phobias rather than others. Sixty-four percent of patients with a phobia have at least one first-degree relative with the same fear (Davidson, Neale, Blankstein, & Flett, 2002, pg. 167). Some may argue it is possible to learn or “adopt” a fear or phobia from a close relative as a function of repeated, chronic exposure to the behaviour.

Regardless of the specific fear an individual has, its symptoms can have a significant impairment on the person’s life and day to day functioning can be severely limited. Because the onset of phobias (especially social phobias), is usually during adolescence, when untreated, there is a likelihood of dropping out of school and experiencing a decreased quality of life.

“A parent who consulted us for treatment for her son, who had gradually decreased school attendance, was somewhat unaware of her own heightened social fear that restricted her behaviours to home and work for years. The son’s own anxiety was further exacerbated by the onset of puberty, transition to highschool and the development of compensatory behaviours such as excessive computer and video gaming activities. Eventually, school staff negotiated a reduced class schedule which, inadvertently, affirmed the problem. Through the assessment process using both the cognitive behavioural and systems lenses, changes in thoughts and behaviours helped this student to gradually improve school attendance and social involvement. His mother also became more socially involved throughout the therapeutic process.”

There are many approaches involved in reducing phobias, so it is important to create a treatment plan (which may include a combination of different therapies) that can serve you best:

  • Systems theory helps identify multiple factors contributing to a problem and quite accurately informs change options and solutions
  • Psychotherapeutic treatments (such as free association) attempt to uncover repressed conflicts that are assumed to be the underlying explanations for extreme fear and avoidance.
  • Systemic desensitization (exposure to specific fears while increasing the state of improved relaxation) has shown to eliminate or at least reduce phobias.
  • Depending on the severity of anxiety developed from phobias, some medications may be prescribed for fear-induced symptoms (e.g., sedatives, tranquilizers, or barbiturates).
  •  Cognitive techniques paired with social skills training (safe exposure to phobia-induced environments) can lessen people’s reaction to their phobias as well as enhance people’s sense of self-worth.

You may find it becomes necessary to seek professional help to gain a thorough understanding of a specific phobia or area of anxiety and how it impacts your life. For professional and confidential help contact us today!


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