I have mentioned this before, but I took two courses online from the Beck Institute on cognitive behavior therapy, “Essentials of CBT: The Beck Approach” and “CBT for Anxiety.”
While these courses were geared more toward providers of care (doctors, counselors, etc.) rather than “patients” or those in need of the care, I still enjoyed and gained a lot of knowledge from them. I, for one, enjoy learning the theory of things, the why and how behind a method. The course also encouraged the use of the “forum” where all the students taking the course at the same time could share ideas, stories, and ask questions. Psychologists from the Beck Institute sometimes responded with answers or comments to our posts as well. I gained some good insight from their responses.
Me vs. the Course
It was really interesting to compare my own experience with therapy to the “ideal” therapy experience as outlined by the Beck Institute. Obviously, all personalities and therapists are different, so each person’s experience is tailored to them (and because of the person who is treating them). I do still appreciate the premise of CBT being about changing behavior and, by doing that, examining and changing our thought process.
I could easily identify myself and my own “thought processing errors” in the examples and things taught in the courses, as well as being able to recognize how I often catastrophize a situation, overestimate the risk of situations and underestimate my coping skills, and employ “safety behaviors” when I shouldn’t (i.e. washing hands more when I am doing exposures or otherwise sabotaging my own treatment).
I appreciated the various worksheets and exercise ideas from the course. At one point, I had to do an activity schedule and plan out my day, writing down when I was going to do each thing as I also tried to plan out things that would be enjoyable and give me some down time, in addition to my exposures and the things I “had” to do. The course also gave a lot of hints about mindfulness, breathing exercises, and even an idea to have a “worry time” set aside so that when an obsession or worry arrived, you could tell yourself “I can’t worry about that now, but I will let myself worry for “x” amount of time after dinner” (or whenever your set aside worry time was).
One thing that I really valued and had not heard much about before was the idea of core beliefs. Basically, the idea of core beliefs relates to the idea that certain experiences affect us and lead us to think and act in specific ways. Throughout our lives, we unconsciously harken back to these core beliefs and hone in on experiences that reinforce them over and over again, ignoring things that might contradict them. For those of us with mental illness, the core beliefs tend to be negative or self-defeating.
There was an entire worksheet to help narrow down and identify core beliefs, but the counsel was given not to work on core beliefs with clients until later on in the treatment. Behavior therapy is really where the work begins—exposures and working on changing how we act before diving into why we act in those ways.
It’s almost like trying to contain a wildfire—you should try to get it contained before you start analyzing why it happened and work on preventing future wildfires. If you try to find out the “why” while it’s still burning, you probably won’t discover the answer and you’ll still have a raging (and growing) wildfire on your hands.
While some of the classes were a little long (especially for someone who is not a doctor or therapist), I did enjoy learning about the mechanics of CBT as well as the other anxiety disorders more in depth. I found it interesting to learn about GAD, social anxiety, and panic disorder in addition to OCD.
Overall, I am glad that I took the courses and think that they helped me more fully understand and appreciate the groundwork underneath the therapy that has helped me manage my own OCD!