- Here and now focus
- Goal-oriented or Problem-focused – what is it I am trying to do and what thinking gets in the way? What beliefs are guiding that thinking?
- Aims to empower the client or student through skill development in cognitive agility, reality testing and shifting gears
Cognitive-behavioral techniques exploit the brain's ability to form and rely on patterns by redirecting attention and mental activity to more positive and productive thoughts that have the power to become self-reinforcing. Because our brain rapidly forms and relies upon patterns, what we repeatedly think and do becomes part of our automatic thought process. Habits of mind become belief and can be astonishingly resilient. All sort of things can happen that could prove the belief wrong but the habits of mind will persist and keep it alive.
The power of thoughts to shape mood and perception has a remarkable impact on what we think of as real. Depression, anxiety, chronic stress and trauma can produce mental patterns that negative, limiting and narrow in focus, but feel safe and inescapable. We become adept at framing and naming experiences according to these core thoughts, e.g. "My dreams will never come true so its better never to have them" as a repeated, self-protective thought turns into a genuine block to making plans or taking steps to realize goals, then a repeated pattern of roads not taken and a sense of being trapped in familiar ruts; "if something terrible happens to me I must deserve it" can induce sadness, guilt and the inability to move past a traumatic or painful event, which leads to abandoning self-care or changes that strengthen the "muscles" needed to avoid further victimization; "If I fail at something it would be better not to have done it at all" makes being a novice or beginner at some activity threatening to the extreme, so we experience paralysis when trying to do anything new.
Dr. David Burns, a cognitive-behavioral specialist and author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy identifies 3 core principles upon which Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is based:
1) All moods are created by our "cognitions" or thoughts;
2) When we are feeling depressed, thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity;
3) The negative thoughts which cause emotional turmoil nearly always contain gross distortions;
WHY CREATIVE EXPERIENCES LIKE IMPROVISATION HELP CHANGE COGNITIVE PATTERNS
Habitual thoughts tend to feel true, even if a reality check proves them to be more mechanical than real, so shifting to a different thought process can feel uncomfortable, wrong, and false. To produce new neural pathways we have to think and behave in new ways long enough for a pattern to be established. This is a creative challenge, and creative experiences are very effective toward producing these patterns. While negative thoughts produce a sense of threat which narrows the field of attention, focusing attention on our strengths, gifts, supports and resources expands the field of
attention. Positive, collaborative, creative experiences garner our personal power, and when combined with action are even more engaging to the machinery of the brain. With practice and repetition, newly-developed ideas, roles, and beliefs eventually move from the cerebral cortex, where the conscious choice to make change begins, to the parts of the brain that manage simpler, more automatic processes. Neural pathways develop through this process of repetitive action and determine what will eventually become a “new normal.”
The principles of Applied Improvisation directly connect to our ability to change the way we think through conscious awareness and creative choice-making. The way this works is summed up on the website www.happify.com, which specializes in research-based brain games:
"1. That the brain we're born with can be changed. Technically speaking, they call that neuroplasticity (You can teach an old brain new tricks.)
2. we can change it by adopting new thought patterns, by training our brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts.
3. All of us are hard-wired for negativity (blame evolution!) but can profoundly benefit from learning new ways to react and deal with everyday stresses.
4. It doesn't take a lot of effort to make a real difference in your life. A few simple and even entertaining mental diversions will change things."
The Basic Principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy by Judith Beck, Phd
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. She is President of Lifestage, Inc which designs and facilitates creative professional development training and is approved by New York State as a Provider of Continuing Education for social workers, provider #0270. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a storytelling show that features true stories - with a twist - told by people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds.