We find that many graduate students, learning CBT for the first time, don't realize the CBT skills they already practice themselves. Just having been accepted to graduate school means they have personally recognized their values, set goals, and developed plans to reach their goals. They have learned to motivate themselves, become organized and follow schedules, solve problems, and respond to dysfunctional thinking that could have deterred them along the way.
These are all skills they will use as cognitive therapists. They will help clients set goals and they will motivate clients to do the necessary work by helping them see the connection between their values and their goals. They will propose a treatment plan that will lead to goal attainment. And they will teach their clients specific skills to help them behave more functionally, decrease unhelpful avoidance, solve problems, and respond to maladaptive thinking.
When we discuss cases with graduate students, we often ask them, "If a close friend or family member [had this problem], what would you tell them? What advice would you give them? What would you want them to understand?" This process helps students grasp that much of CBT involves a common sense approach to problem solving and to thinking more realistically. Then they need to learn the skill of primarily using questioning, as opposed to telling, to help their clients generate solutions and evaluate their thinking.
Finally, we discuss the importance of bringing their (hopefully) warm, natural genuineness with other people to the therapeutic relationship. We help them see the necessity of being a nice, empathic human being with their clients and forging a strong alliance so clients will be able to collaborate fully, viewing their therapist as part of their team, and helping them gain skills to improve their lives.
Judith S. Beck, PhD
President, Beck Institute