I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I was taking an online course with the Beck Institute about cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

Before taking the course, I was somewhat skeptical. I wanted to take another one of their courses on CBT and anxiety disorders (and I am going to be taking it eventually), but they have a special deal on pricing if you combine the courses. I thought that I didn’t really need to take this “introduction” to CBT course since I’ve been in CBT therapy for awhile. I should know the drill.

Of course, I was pretty wrong, and I’m really glad that I decided to take the course.


It’s been fascinating to take the course and see the similarities and differences between my experience with therapy and the “official” ideas and recommendations from the source (Dr. Aaron Beck was one of the founders of CBT, and his daughter is the teacher of the course).

Besides some practical considerations of therapy sessions (based on structure, having an agenda, and setting specific goals), I have been most interested in the idea of “automatic thoughts” and “core beliefs.”

Today I wanted to look a little bit at core beliefs. 

Apparently, therapists don’t get into core beliefs with their clients until some groundwork has been done and a solid relationship has been established. I, for one, was under the impression that CBT didn’t really care about our past or our personal experiences. I thought that CBT cared solely about our actions and worked on exposure response prevention, etc. And while ERP and CBT are used for OCD, CBT in general and therapists who are trained in CBT are supposed to care about our beliefs and ideas and how we got those beliefs and ideas.

Before going into professional therapy for OCD, I had thought of therapy as being an intense time where a psychologist asked intense, personal questions to dig out experiences that “caused” our mental illnesses. Then, once unearthed, there would be a grand “aha!” moment and, having realized where and why the mental health issues originated, I don’t know– I guess I thought all would be well. The problem would be rooted out and, having knowledge, health would be regained.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple. But as I’m going through this course, I’m realizing that yes, there are life experiences that have influenced my “core beliefs” about life, myself, and others. These core beliefs then influence other factors of my life, including ways I live my life and how I think and react in certain specific situations.

Core Beliefs and OCD

Yes, I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and that leads me to specific behaviors or compulsions. But the thoughts (obsessions) I have when faced with a specific situation and the meaning I give to those thoughts are often (maybe always?) influenced by the core beliefs I have about life, my relationship with others, and my view of myself and my abilities.

Before in therapy, I didn’t really focus on core beliefs. I thought they didn’t matter or apply to my OCD. But I’m realizing, more and more, that sometimes my treatment for OCD has been like mowing a lawn full of dandelions: I’ve tried to mow the dandelions along with the grass, and that works for awhile, making it so that the dandelions are less noticeable while also avoiding the “puffy” dandelion growth. But the dandelions keep growing back when I simply mow them over. If I want to get rid of dandelions, more work is required. I have to weed them out, one by one, painstakingly.

For me, this is like the idea of core beliefs in CBT. Our actions, emotions, and behaviors are the flowers and “puffy” dandelion growth, but the thoughts and core beliefs that eventually lead to those thoughts are the dandelion plant and its roots. Sure, we can prevent our responses and control the spread of the OCD, but unearthing and rooting out the entire plant requires so much more work, self analysis, and thought.

I know this is a very general summary of core beliefs. There is so much more to it. I highly recommend the course from the Beck Institute or bringing it up with your therapist. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all and will be back with more “teasers” and favorite ideas from the course!

Has your therapist ever mentioned “core beliefs”? What do you know about CBT theory in general?

Category : CBT