Change for the Better: Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Everyday Practice

According to a 2009 study, it takes 18 to 254 days to form a new habit while it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.  So how can healthcare providers motivate patients to better manage their anxiety, depression, or a health problem that might affect their wellbeing?

One tool is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a short-term treatment that aims to change unhelpful patterns of thinking or behavior that can contribute to maintaining or worsening various mental or physical health problems.  CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety and stress-related disorders; and it can be used as a stand-alone treatment or combined with medications or other interventions (such as mindfulness).

CBT is also increasingly being utilized in primary care settings as a first step in care.  Think of it as a way to help your patient change the way they think and behave.  It is a way to teach new skills that can be used in real life situations.  Some useful CBT techniques to share with patients include:

  1. Locate the problem and brainstorm solutions.Write down one sentence to describe the problem and use it as a foundation for addressing the problem.
  1. Write self-statements to counteract negative thoughts. Think of the negative thoughts that dampen positive ones and reframe the negative thoughts.
  1. Find new opportunities to think positive thoughts.People who enter a room and immediately think, “I hate that wall color,” might instead train themselves to locate five things in the room with which they can create a positive association.
  1. Finish each day by visualizing its best parts.Recording the thing you’re most thankful for strengthens those associations and creates positive pathways.
  1. Learn to accept disappointment as a normal part of life.Disappointing situations are a part of life, and your response – acceptance, learning, and refocusing – can affect how quickly you can move forward.

By teaching one or two techniques to your patients, PAs in all settings can empower patients to create effective and lasting change in their lives and be active participants in their care.

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