Some people experience recurrent or persistent problems with “normal” functioning, on a regular basis. They experience some degree of mental / emotional distress or debilitation often in the form of withdrawal / anxiety / avoidance, or over-reactivity / anger / panic. There is typically a corresponding mental health diagnosis (DSM V) describing common symptoms of the disorder. Likewise, there are conditioned responses. But the difference that results in seeking therapy is the interference with optimal brain or body functioning. This is reflected in impairment in some area of life such as job, family or social relationships, health, or legal consequences.
My clinical practice specializes in improvement of mental and physical health and wellness through the application of cognitive and behavior therapy, hypnosis, and behavioral medicine in the treatment of anxiety and stress-related disorders which can result in mood- and emotion-regulation problems; obsessive and compulsive behaviors; phobias and panic, as well as interpersonal and relationship problems.
“Behavior” is defined as Overt (observable actions of a person), Covert (thoughts / beliefs), and Somatic (body / emotional) responses. Therefore, Behavior Therapy also encompasses what is more popularly known as Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT). There are many misconceptions about CBT even among practitioners who call themselves CB therapists. One is that anyone can do it without specialized training. Another is that “cognitive-behavioral” refers only to cognitive behavior or thoughts (more accurately known as cognitive therapy). Or, that CBT just addresses the symptoms without getting to the “deeper” issues.
CBT is a bio-psycho-social approach to improved functioning that does not subscribe to the belief that getting to the “deeper” issues will spontaneously provide relief. It’s about changing the brain by doing something different. There are key ingredients to behavior therapy that set it apart from other forms of therapy. Professional training and credentials plus the skillful use of evidence-based treatment (vs theories) are hallmarks of CBT.
CBT examines the client’s internal and external environments in great detail to ascertain what has shaped and continues to maintain behavior—this is the conditioning mentioned earlier. Many people have episodes in which stress or illness or trauma put their coping abilities to the test. To that end, CBT is often more focused on the “here and now” versus re-visiting the distant past at length. Interest in past events is typically focused on the contribution of those events to the current problem, and educating the client about the conditioning that took place. Likewise, understanding that all behavior is functional i.e., serves a purpose—whether or not it’s adaptive—is also empowering.
CBT tends to be aimed at more immediate change and can be sought on an “as-needed” basis versus a treatment approach that requires one to settle into therapy for many months or years. And, while the primary goal is not to gain insight per se, it is a natural byproduct of CBT and most forms of therapy. CBT goes beyond the “light bulb moments” to learning the skills to improve coping and one’s quality of life. Changing behavior changes the brain.
Mental / emotional distress invariably produces physical symptoms just as physical illness always has a mental / emotional component. Effective treatment addresses the whole person. Behavioral medicine has applications to many chronic health problems. Extensive research in the use of behavioral medicine documents such effects as enhanced immune response, decreased inflammation, and increased relaxation.
My interest in behavioral medicine stems from the physical effects of stress and anxiety on the body. Signs and symptoms of the anxiety disorders can include feeling jittery, unsettled, overwhelmed, excessively worried, preoccupied with catastrophic thoughts, easily startled or being emotionally overreactive. There are often disturbances of sleep, concentration, or mood which in turn affect social relationships or occupational functioning.
Addressing the Mind-Body connection is an important part of my practice. Changes in thoughts, emotions, behavior and lifestyle can improve health and prevent, reduce or eliminate symptoms of illness. Behavioral medicine interventions empower the client to do what works, thus reducing reliance on medication.
Educating clients about brain science and health introduces a new perspective that often helps a person realize the brain is a unique organ with special needs. Neurotherapy in the form of photic and audio stimulation (entrainment) is another resource for altering brain states and eliciting relaxation. Photic stimulation refers to the use of light (glasses with LEDs) to elicit particular brainwaves; whereas audio refers to the use of sound. It is well known that the human brain experiences a range of frequencies ranging from beta (fast) to delta (sleep / slow) waves. There are corresponding brain states or feelings that are characteristic of each category of brain waves. For example, alpha-theta brainwaves are conducive to relaxation. In turn, the relaxation response puts the brakes on the “fight, flight or freeze” response associated with stress.