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Coping Skills No Match for COVID-19? How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help

December 08, 2020

With the holiday season in full swing and COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise, it’s no wonder many are feeling extra stressed and anxious.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) might be able to help.

“It is a form of psychological therapy designed to help people overcome specific problems within a fixed amount of time,” said David F. Tolin, PhD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the The Institute of Living (IOL) in Hartford.

Rather than focusing on the past, CBT helps clients by working on the here-and-now by reprogramming harmful scripts that keep replaying in the brain.

“Once strong emotions take hold, we start acting out on instinct,” said Dr. Tolin. “We start acting on old automatic patterns, and we don’t think very clearly about what we are doing and why. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to point those things out.”

Take, for instance, a person becoming overwhelmed with bills that continue to pile up. A CBT therapist would encourage a plan for dealing with the bills.

“If you are finding that your anxious thoughts are getting in the way and are making you feel completely freaked out, the therapist might challenge you on some of those negative thoughts,” said Dr. Tolin. “Maybe it’s not quite as bad as you are making it out to be, and if we take a more logical approach to it, you might see things as they are, not just as you fear they are.”

With many students involved in either remote or hybrid learning, CBT can be a useful option for youth with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“CBT for ADHD largely involves teaching the person better organizational strategies,” said Dr. Tolin. “A CBT therapist might help a person with ADHD formulate a plan for how they will organize themselves going forward.”

For many people, CBT can be a first line of defense before taking medication. CBT is also time-limited, meaning that it is not meant as a long-term form of treatment.

“The average course of treatment for CBT varies depending on the person and the problem they are being treated for,” said Dr. Tolin. “If you don’t start seeing some results within 10-15 visits, it’s a sign that things need to be changed.”