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Psi-Chi-ology Lab
 
How a Psychology Degree Gave Me Tools to Improve My Psychological Health
Danial Asadolahi (Adler University)
  April 17, 2017

At one point or another, each of us has likely struggled with either feelings of anxiety or feelings of sadness. Given that research shows that depressive and anxiety disorders are fairly common psychological maladies in the modern world (Baxter, Scott, Vos, & Whiteford, 2013; Ferrari et al., 2013), it is even possible that a number of the readers of this blog post have struggled, or are currently struggling, with clinical levels of anxiety and depression.

As a person who has lived for almost three decades, I have garnered my fair share of life experience. There have been times when I have had to face the emotional and psychological hurdles that life often throws at nearly all of us. These have included working up the courage to speak in front of large audiences, discussing potentially stressful topics with family, and putting together big school assignments, among many others. I have used the various coping and problem-solving methods that people in general are likely to employ (e.g. exercise, talking to a family member or friend). It was after I attended university and obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, however, that I found myself much better equipped—psychologically speaking—to face and solve life’s problems.


I attribute this higher level of preparedness to the large amount of scientific psychological knowledge I acquired via my university education. Among all of the aforementioned knowledge, I think that what helped and continues to help me most is what is referred to as cognitive therapy (Corey, 2012). The core idea behind cognitive therapy, which is a psychotherapeutic technique, is that people can change how they feel and behave by changing the way they think (Corey, 2012). Put another way, the main underlying principle of cognitive therapy is that the content of a person’s thinking can explain why that person is experiencing negative emotions and maladaptive behaviors and, conversely, why another person reports happiness and psychological health (Corey, 2012). Empirical research in psychology has shown cognitive therapy to be quite effective at helping people overcome a host of psychological issues including anxiety and depression (Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer, & Fang, 2012; Hollon et al., 2014).

After reading extensively about cognitive therapy in the course of my university education, I think it can be reasonably argued that the psychological benefits of cognitive therapy are due to the client or patient becoming more rational as a result of using the skills acquired in the course of cognitive therapy. These skills can be summed up in the following phrase: analyzing one’s thought content for irrational, illogical, or unrealistic thinking, and then changing one’s thinking so that it becomes more reasonable and realistic (Corey, 2012).

I have personally used the cognitive therapeutic technique to overcome anxious states. Specifically, I have analyzed my thinking whenever I have felt anxious, be it in school settings among peers, at home with family, or in social settings with friends. This helps me determine whether my anxious thoughts are of a rational and realistic nature, or whether they sound unreasonable. Whenever I have found my thinking to contain logical errors, unrealistic expectations, or unfounded fears, I have modified my thinking to render it more adaptive. The result has been reductions in anxious feelings and calmer, more confident behavior. This cognitive process of thought analysis and modification is potentially difficult, time-consuming, and may require lots of practice. However, the previously mentioned empirical research, as well as my own account, suggest that people can acquire and utilize cognitive therapeutic skills to improve their psychological well-being.

My personal experiences with cognitive therapy tell me that negative emotional states and thought patterns can be effectively neutralized via analysis of their degree of sensibleness and reasonability. I hope that this short article on the cognitive therapeutic method—alongside other means, including professional psychotherapeutic aid—can be of some degree of help to those readers who themselves are struggling with negative psychological states (e.g., depression and anxiety), or to family members, friends, and partners of readers whose struggle readers are aware of and to whom they would like to extend a helping hand.

References
Baxter, A. J., Scott, K. M., Vos, T., & Whiteford, H. A. (2013). Global prevalence of anxiety disorders: A systematic review and meta-regression. Psychological Medicine, 43, 897–910. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S003329171200147X


Corey, G. (2012). The art of integrative counseling. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ferrari, A. J., Somerville, A. J., Baxter, A. J., Norman, R., Patten, S. B., Vos, T., & Whiteford, H. A. (2013). Global variation in the prevalence and incidence of major depressive disorder: A systematic review of the epidemiological literature. Psychological Medicine, 43, 471481. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291712001511

Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36, 427440. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1

Hollon, S. D., DeRubeis, R. J., Fawcett, J., Amsterdam, J. D., Shelton, R. C., Zajecka, J., . . . Gallop, R. (2014). Effect of cognitive therapy with antidepressant medications vs antidepressants alone on the rate of recovery in major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 71, 11571164. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1054
 
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