How CBT Harmed Me: The Interview That the New York Times Erased

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From Disability Visibility Project: “CBT as a modality is based around gaslighting. It’s all about telling a patient that the world is safe, bad feelings are temporary, and that pain (emotional or physical) is a ‘faulty or unhelpful’ distortion of thinking. That’s literally in CBT’s definition on the APA website. But how do they determine that someone’s thinking is ‘faulty or unhelpful’? From the first session, therapists told me my way of thinking was the problem, not the medical conditions I couldn’t control or things like systemic injustices, financial struggles, trauma, and discrimination. And that’s a big problem with CBT. When therapists look at patients through the lens of patients’ thinking being faulty or distorted, not the larger issues impacting their lives, therapists miss those larger issues and the patient is invalidated and harmed even further.

[Maybe some people find CBT helpful] but what happens in CBT when your thinking is not actually distorted? When you’re someone who has chronic pain, chronic illness, and disability? Someone dealing with systemic and societal issues that are very real and harmful? Someone dealing with trauma, PTSD, or currently being abused? Someone living in a global pandemic that’s disabling and killing millions of people? I believe CBT is built to be dismissive and invalidating. And that’s what was done to me for so long that even I wondered at times if maybe I was causing my own pain, that if I ‘fixed’ my thinking and could stop being anxious, my pain would get better. But two decades of therapy only made me feel more lost and confused, and the pain only got worse. I lost so much time focusing on therapy that I could have been seeing the right specialists and doing preventative treatments that might have stopped my illnesses from progressing the way they have.

. . . CBT is based on the premise that any patient coming into therapy is experiencing distorted, ‘faulty,’ ‘catastrophizing’ thinking. CBT therapists are trained to convince patients that they’re overreacting and that they’ll feel better when they realize they’re overreacting. They believe patients will realize that the world is actually safe (or at least safer than they think it is) and that emotions are based on unjustified fears and misinterpretations. Except that isn’t true. I can’t say I know anyone that’s true for. And it very much blames the victim, the patient. It tells them the problem is their way of processing pain and trauma, not whatever is actually causing it. With chronic pain, the problem can be physical, worsened by the neglect of the medical system. I can’t wish that away. I can’t convince myself I’m not in pain that exists and is being neglected. It’s not true. And it’s harmful to tell me that’s how I’ll get better when it’s not.

Also, CBT practitioners seem to work off an assumption that patients will feel better if they refocus their attention to distractions. I can’t tell you how many therapists told me to just go out, make new friends, join a club, even giving me worksheets to schedule and report those kinds of activities. None of that helped me. First of all, it was hard to go out and make friends when I was living in chronic pain. It also felt so dismissive to be told the solution was just to distract myself and pretend everything was fine when I had real, physical pain and trauma going on that wasn’t being properly addressed.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Good old CBT. The doctors favorite go to in order to discredit the patient. Psych has been most helpful for the greater medical community.
    But absolutely not to patients. Minimizing, distorting facts is really what goes on in the medical community. A terrible place to be and I congratulate Alana for speaking out.
    I know it feels like nothing changes, and perhaps it won’t, but life is just not some kind of fair and there will always be those that use their power to be asses. It’s cowardly behaviour from medical people.

    • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). A fancy word for things which involve activities like making notes in a book, recognising cognitive biases (plenty of material you can read on the internet about them), relaxation exercises and stuff like that. Now, these things can be useful for people. A person can apply them in his/her life. Writing a journal can be good for anyone. But the term “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” and the word “therapy” attached to it makes it look like it’s some sophisticated procedure when it’s nothing of the sort.

      People suffer and they want to do something about it. They end up in these sessions which often don’t solve anything tangible at all.

      As the author mentions, if the person is being abused or has other tangible problems, what the hell would this crap do?

      If a person is suicidal because of financial problems, he/she needs money. If one comes from an abusive household or workplace, one needs justice or resources to get out of that place.

      Ending up in these sessions just ends up being more gaslighting.

      If someone comes from an abusive family, gets labelled and then ends up in “CBT”, that very abusive person might called them a “mad person who needs (or is currently undergoing) ‘treatment’ “. I’ve seen it happen before, and it’s sickening.

      I sometimes wonder if this CBT stuff (when it comes from “therapists”) actually helps people or it actually helps the “therapists” in making an income or furthering their careers.

  2. The reference for the definition of CBT says quite clearly that it is about thoughts especially painful thoughts and there is no way this could construed as nerve pain as reported here. If CBT is terrible why lie and make out it would be sold for something entirely different than the name says it is? It is incoherent and unethical that it was published.

    • The word “nerve” doesn’t appear in the article anywhere. And you missed the point of the article. She’s trying to convey the fact that people actually have tangible problems to deal with and listening and talking inside a room and doing worksheets etc., is not going to solve them, and often ends up localising the problems in the brains of the sufferer which basically causes more suffering.

    • Wow, some really radical thinking there! You mean that people get depressed because their lives kind of suck? NAH, COULDN’T BE! If their brain chemicals were adjusted properly, they’d be HAPPY that they were poor, homeless, raped, sexually abused, abandoned or whatever. EVERYONE knows that!

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