Mental health issues lead many individuals to behaviors that land them in jail or prison. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 2 million people with mental health issues are booked into the nation’s jails every year, and 83% of those individuals leave jail without any treatment. In 2018, Bureau of Justice Statistics data showed that 14% of state and federal prison inmates had a serious mental illness.
Many of those inmates likely aren’t getting treatment and never will. Psychological counseling can be expensive and can take a considerable amount of time to produce results. Of course, counseling sessions can also be expensive. An approach known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can address the issues of time and cost.
What is CBT?
The experts at PsychCentral define cognitive behavioral therapy as “a short-term, goal oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a practical approach to problem-solving.” At the root of CBT is one simple idea – your thoughts drive your behavior. Those thoughts may be positive or negative, accurate or not quite in line with reality. This is where many emotional and behavioral problems start, with thoughts that aren’t accurate. You are in prison. You think an inmate behind you in the chow line is whispering insulting things about you to a third inmate. You become angry. Maybe you had previous problems with this same inmate. Maybe you are especially irritable today. Your temper flares and you curse out the other person.
In fact, the other person was whispering to another inmate about something they just watched on television. You were making up a story about something you deserved to be mad about. This is an example of mind-reading, one of the “cognitive distortions” that affect everyone’s mind sometimes.
In CBT therapy, a patient would spend a great deal of time reflecting on their own thinking. Why do certain thoughts occur? How realistic are those thoughts? Is there something neutral or positive I could use to replace my unrealistic thoughts?
Suppose you are at work, composing a long email. This message concerns a major account and you are writing to your boss along with several coworkers. Let’s say the account is for PPM International, but you called it TPM International. Your boss calls out this mistake in front of a couple of colleagues. What would you think about in this scenario?
Some people will overreact: “Oh no! I screwed up such a simple thing. Again. I wonder if my boss will skewer me in my next performance review. If this happens again, and it probably will, I am not going to get a raise. I hope I don’t get fired.”
There is another, reasonable response to events like the misspelled client name. Note that here you made one spelling mistake that no one outside the organization saw. How much of a disaster is that, realistically? It certainly isn’t a career-ending disaster. You can simply resolve to slow down and pay more attention when writing your email messages in the future. You may also make the effort to remember a situation where you executed a task perfectly or solved a small problem creatively.
CBT has proven useful with a range of issues, including substance abuse, anger management, depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT therapist works with a patient on correcting that type of thinking error, and much more. Unlike most traditional therapies, CBT requires homework. Your therapist might give you a “cheat sheet” listing various cognitive distortions to review. Patients may also be asked to record and challenge their thinking. At weekly sessions, you will probably go over your homework and learn or review a new technique for managing your thinking. Most CBT practitioners probably use traditional one-one-one therapy. CBT also works in a group setting. Finally, self-directed CBT using online video lessons and associated readings. This kind of self-help therapy is relatively new.
Dr. Chester Davis possesses a PhD in Sociology from the Oklahoma State University and currently serves as the resident curriculum expert and proposal manager at MaxxContent. He lives in Nashville, TN.