CBT is not just about changing how we think – it’s about doing things differently too.
Some psychological theories suggest we learn negative ways of thinking and behaving through a process called negative reinforcement.
For example, if you have a fear of spiders, by avoiding them you learn that your anxiety levels can be reduced. So you’re rewarded with less anxiety in the short term, but this reinforces the fear.
To unlearn these patterns, people with phobias and anxiety disorders often use a CBT technique called graded exposure. By gradually confronting what frightens them while practising relaxation strategies and observing that nothing bad happens, it’s possible to retrain their brains to not fear it.