How Can CBT Help With Intrusive Thoughts?

How Can CBT Help With Intrusive Thoughts? Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly referred to as the Buddha, says “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” This is the precursor for the concept of “we are shaped by our thoughts.” However, what if those thoughts are toxic and corrupt? We become “shaped” and molded in ways that we never desired. This is what happens with intrusive thoughts. The good news is that there are many forms of treatment that can help with intrusive thoughts, one of which is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Understanding Intrusive Thoughts as a Symptom of Mental Illness and Addiction

While it is true that most people will experience some form of intrusive thinking at some point in their lives, most will never experience them on the elevated scale associated with mental illness and addiction. When intrusive thoughts are symptomatic of mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) they can be debilitating and damaging, much different than what most individuals occasionally experience.

Intrusive thoughts can be symptomatic of many mental health disorders, but they are very prominent in anxiety disorders, trauma, and addiction. These intrusive thoughts can keep people from moving on from past events, taking care of current responsibilities, and tackling future projects. Ultimately, these thoughts can “freeze” us in a state of discomfort, which is why it is crucial to get help with intrusive thoughts sooner rather than later.

What Exactly Are Intrusive Thoughts?

While they can take on many forms, intrusive thoughts are unwanted concepts, ideas, images, and beliefs that enter our minds and “stay there.” The term “intrusive thoughts” is often used interchangeably with “racing mind.” This makes sense because when intrusive thoughts are present, it creates a sense of constant or “racing” distress.

For those struggling with intrusive thoughts, it can be exhausting. This exhaustion can make it hard to function in day-to-day life, which is why it is critical to get professional help with intrusive thoughts.

What Treatments Can Help With Intrusive Thoughts?

Many forms of treatment can be utilized to help minimize and mitigate intrusive thoughts. Primarily these treatments involve “traditional” mental health therapies and psychotherapies, experiential therapies, and holistic practices.

While all of these types of treatments can be very helpful, it is often recommended that the initial treatment (or foundational treatment) be evidence-based. Now, this merely means that there have been enough studies conducted to show a level of efficacy that can be agreed upon within the industry.

This does not mean that experiential and holistic treatments aren’t effective. It just means that they may be better as supplemental recovery tools to be used in addition to evidence-based treatment. One of these evidence-based treatments is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

How Can Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Help With Intrusive Thoughts?

Before going into the efficacy of CBT, it is important to get a basic understanding of exactly what CBT is. According to the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, “Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) refers to a class of interventions that share the basic premise that mental disorders and psychological distress are maintained by cognitive factors. The core premise of this treatment approach… holds that maladaptive cognitions contribute to the maintenance of emotional distress and behavioral problems.”

A key to understanding intrusive thoughts and CBT Iin that description is the term “maladaptive cognitions.” These maladaptive cognitions are often the basis of intrusive thoughts, which is also why CBT can be such an effective treatment tool.

CBT works to get to underlying emotional issues that are the core cause of intrusive thoughts. Once these issues are uncovered, it becomes easier to see how these intrusive thoughts are actually false beliefs and concepts that manifest from corrupted emotions. Then, these underlying issues can be addressed to diminish intrusive thoughts, as well as other negative actions and behaviors. Another exceptional aspect of CBT is that it can be utilized as a continual process to keep intrusive thoughts from reemerging to a disordered degree.