I tried cognitive behavioral therapy at home. Here’s what my Bacon thought

I’ll just say it: thoughts are (more often than not) lyin’ sons-of-bitches. Plain and simple. And yet, we put SO MUCH stock into everything they tell us. 

For some reason, we automatically assume they have like doctorates or something in whatever negative shit they tell us – even though there is little to no truth behind the stink.

The problem: we don’t really pay attention to these thoughts. We’ve gotten so used to them as background noise. (Kind of like the time a person died in my apartment building but I didn’t even notice the ambulance sirens outside because I was watching ER… I’m not a terrible person, I swear.)

The result: the thoughts get away with their abhorrent behavior. (And similarly, my mom ends up calling me up in a panic because she saw my apartment building on the news…) 

Now before you go all “Duuuuude, you just BLEW my mind!” (Get it? Because we’re talking about “thoughts?” No? Tough crowd…), you should know: I come to you with this information having just completed a seven-week read on the concept of cognitive behavioral therapy. (So I’m not as brilliant as I sound… Just as brilliant as I look.)

Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks by Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D is a workbook for those who want to try a taste of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) at home (without the expense of a therapist… although I have nothing against therapists – I love my therapist). 

The workbook uses real-life examples of negative thought patterns (to which we can easily relate) linked to depression and anxiety to help the reader better identify the root causes. It then offers actionable exercises to help you better control your thoughts and, subsequently, the behaviors you wish to change (or be rid of completely). 

So I gave this workbook a try, and while I did bump into a few obstacles throughout my progress, I found a lot of the information very helpful and enlightening. 

Hence, I present to you my THOUGHTS (“thoughts” that I have consciously recognized and identified as positive/useful, do they can be exempt from my previous classification of “lyin’ sons-of-bitches”) on Dr. Gillihan’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks.

The Gist of CBT

Before I dive into how I felt about the chapters for each week, let me give ya just a little background about CBT (in case you aren’t familiar with the subject).

In “Part One” of the book, Dr. Gillihan explains the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy and how it works.

Without diving too much into the history of CBT, basically, it started with the science of animal learning and behavior in the early 20th century. 

Remember the story of Ivan Pavlov? He was the one who performed the study of ringing the bell right before feeding a dog. After a few rounds, he tried ringing the bell WITHOUT pairing it with the food; however, the dog would still drool and expect food whenever a bell rang. (For me, all it takes is waking up in the morning…)

Scientists built on Pavlov’s studies to answer the question: “What makes us more likely to do some things and less likely to do others?”

Eventually, they came to the following conclusion: “Punish an action to stop it; reward an action to encourage it.” (Although no punishment will ever stop me from eating bacon… Unless the punishment is cutting off my tongue, of course.)

The “cognitive” aspect joined the “behavioral” aspect as a way to identify the thoughts that drive us to behave in certain ways. (I think about bacon = I eat bacon.)

A good example of how negative thoughts may influence behavior: one terrifying experience involving bridges may cause a person to fear all bridges in all situations. As a result, she never goes anywhere near bridges.

The practice of cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help people overcome anxiety and other issues. A therapist might use CBT to help a patient identify the thoughts she is having, challenge them, and slowly alter her behaviors through repeated exposure to her fears.

Now you see why one might consider trying CBT. (And why I was all like “Hell, yeah!” when I came across this workbook in my Amazon list of recommendations.)

What I found particularly helpful in “Part One” of Dr. Gillihan’s book is that it goes through each type of anxiety disorder and helps you identify the one you experience the most. It also helps you consider whether you are suffering from depression.

Preview

  • Week 1: Setting Goals and Getting Started
  • Week 2: Getting Back to Life
  • Week 3: Identifying Your Thought Patterns
  • Week 4: Breaking Negative Thought Patterns
  • Week 5: Time and Task Management
  • Week 6: Facing Your Fears
  • Week 7: Putting It All Together

Week 1: Setting Goals and Getting Started

This chapter is all about setting your goals for the CBT workbook/program to help motivate you in the specific areas you really want to focus on in your life.

What I Found Helpful

Trying to figure out exactly what I want to say usually ends with me panicking that I’m missing something or not saying it right. (“I’m afraid of saying something stupid… Am I stupid for saying that? Am I effectively communicating exactly how stupid I feel? How do I say I’m afraid of saying something stupid without sounding stupid? I NEED WINE…”) 

This chapter poses very specific questions to give me a clearer picture of who I am and what I want. It also forces me to put it all on paper, which I found very enlightening. (“Woah! I didn’t even realize I felt that way, but damn… I HAVE always felt stupid! I want to change that.”)

What I Had Trouble With

The chapter tells you to record your daily activities for a week, hour by hour. I found it difficult to keep up with it, as I have so much shit to do on a regular basis. (Don’t we all?) At the end of the day, the last thing I feel like doing is reviewing everything I did that made me so exhausted.

Week 2: Getting Back to Life

The book dives right into making a plan for changing daily behaviors to positively influence your thoughts. It instructs you to complete a “Values & Activities” form to list specific changes you want to make and then create a sublist of clearset activities that help support those changes. 

For example: One of the changes on my list was “Focus more on my passion for comedy.” So my sublist of activities included things like “Listen to a Conan O’Brien podcast” and “Jot down funny ideas in a journal.”

You get the idea.

What I Found Helpful

I was forced to really think about the things I love and want to do that I’ve been neglecting. It also opened my eyes to how much TV I watch on a daily basis that puts my brain in a foggy funk. (No, I am NOT watching Frasier as we speak… *slowly picks up remote.*) 

What I Had Trouble With

It took me a while to break down my sublist of activities into specific actions. For example, instead of something like “Listen to a Conan O’Brien podcast,” I kept mistakenly listing things that were too open ended like “Do more comedy shit.”

Week 3: Identifying Your Thought Patterns

This chapter shows you how to identify your thought patterns, since more often than not we don’t even recognize that these unrealistic thoughts are going through our heads. 

What I Found Helpful

The chapter gives you a simple “Event/Thought/Emotion” diagram that’s easy to draw up whenever something happens in your life that creates strong, negative emotions. In one bubble, you describe the “event.” (E.g., you don’t get the job you interviewed for, a friend doesn’t text you back, someone uses your loofah without asking… Not that I would ever give permission for that…) 

This easy diagram made it easier for me to see what thoughts a particular event caused me to have and how they affected my emotions. It also helped me realize how unrealistic some of the thoughts I had were.

What I Had Trouble With

I had to add “Complete the Identifying Thoughts form for at least three events” to my weekly assignment of completing four new activities from the “Values & Activities” list. I started feeling overwhelmed with new tasks. (“I lost an hour chasing my cat in the garage. Does that count as ‘an event’? Do I have 15 minutes to spare between giving half my soul to Job #1 and all my self-respect to Job #2… I NEED WINE.”)

Week 4: Breaking Negative Thought Patterns

So what do we do with the thoughts from particular events that give us such strong negative emotions? In this chapter, the author gives yet another form: “Challenging Your Thoughts.” You use this form to list any realistic evidence that may support your thought side-by-side with a list of any undeniable evidence AGAINST that thought. 

What I Found Helpful

Per the goal of the exercise, I was able to easily come up with more substantive evidence against my thought than any evidence supporting it.

Example:

Thought:

“I’m stupid.”

Evidence For:

“One of my readers pointed out a typo in my article.”

“I thought ‘smh’ meant ‘skanky mother ho.’”

Evidence Against:

“I had a 3.75 GPA in grad school.”

“I’ve taught two college courses.”

“My friends tell me I’m smart all the time.”

“I don’t eat poo.”

What I Had Trouble With

In addition to being a long chapter, I had to add “Challenging Your Thoughts” to my weekly assignments. I began forgetting to complete the activities from my “Values & Activities” list.

Week 5: Time and Task Management

A common cause of anxiety is feeling overwhelmed with tasks – especially when you have so many different responsibilities. This chapter focuses on breaking down your daily/weekly/monthly tasks to make them more manageable and realistic and less intimidating. 

What I Found Helpful

Time and task management has ALWAYS been one of the biggest causes of my anxiety. I was really excited when I got to this chapter because it really did help me realize that I don’t have to cram every single thing I have to do in one day. I realized I could ACTUALLY allow myself some free time!

What I Had Trouble With

I REALLY wish this chapter came earlier on in the workbook. I could have really used it to better manage the activity and thought assignments each week.

Week 6: Facing Your Fears

Last but not least, the book talks about facing our fears and what new thoughts we can tell ourselves to help us overcome them. 

What I Found Helpful

My favorite concept in this chapter is “Do It On Purpose.” The author says one of the best ways to conquer our fears is to take them on with the full intention of overcoming them. Facing them against our will is not going to do us any good or improve our responses to them.

For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking but are required to speak in front of your peers at work “because you have to,” this isn’t going to help you conquer your fear. Instead of doing it because “you have to,” the book advises voluntarily CHOOSING to face your fear. This approach sends the message to your brain that your “fear” really isn’t that scary at all. 

What I Had Trouble With

This was a very loooooong chapter. It took more than the seven weeks for me to finish the book because of it.

Week 7: Putting It All Together

This chapter “wrapped things up,” reviewing everything that was covered throughout the book.

What I Found Helpful

This chapter made it easier to remember everything I learned without feeling scatterbrained.

What I Had Trouble With

It required a LOT of writing. (My hand hurt. Pretty sure I got a blister… I NEED WINE.)

Conclusion

Overall, I am very happy with what I learned from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks. I do wish some of the chapters were a bit shorter, and that there was a little less writing involved. (Ironic, I know.) I understand the purpose of the written assignments, but a lot of the questions required deep reflection and intense emotional release… That takes a toll on a person.

I did feel a lot of relief reading this book. I related to everything in it and suddenly didn’t feel so alone in my anxiety and depression. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for effective practices you can use on a regular basis to tackle those lyin’ sons-of-bitches that plague your head. 

I believe it will also help you dig deep and discover things about yourself that have always been there but just below the surface. You’ll get yet another step closer to reaching true Baconator status.

Now: about that wine…

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