Implementing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques in Schools

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are becoming increasingly popular as a trustworthy, research-based method for use in schools. Cognitive behavioral therapy can assist pupils in managing their behavior rather than relying only on external reinforcement or punishment.

Key takeaways:
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    Cognitive behavioral therapy has demonstrated positive effects in treating a variety of behavioral issues affecting children in schools.
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    Changes in thinking result in changes in feelings and behavior.
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    CBT is appropriate for children aged 7 and up.
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    The intervention needs to match the child's level of cognitive development.
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    The challenge for the teacher is to turn abstract ideas into simple, real-world examples that children can understand.

In CBT, students learn to transform negative thinking patterns through constructive self-talk, leading to positive, emotional, and behavioral changes.

CBT in schools

Multiple studies with a wide range of students with different behavioral issues have shown that when teachers use cognitive-behavioral strategies in the classroom, the student's behavior improves. Cognitive behavioral therapy is increasingly acknowledged as a legitimate, research-based method acceptable for use in educational settings.

Self-talk, also called "covert self-instruction," is when one talks to themselves to solve a problem or change the way one acts. Instead of learning "what to think," cognitive techniques assist students in learning "how to think." Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that the student is in charge of their thoughts and behaviors and is not dependent on rewards and punishments from outside sources. We all know that using rewards and punishments in the classroom can be helpful. However, CBT theory states that teaching students to be aware of their thought processes brings long-lasting behavioral change.

What is CBT?

In this short article, I can't go into the full theory of CBT, but I will try to show how it is a very effective way to improve mental health.

"Cognitive" is a technical term that refers to how we think. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on understanding how events and experiences are perceived and identifying and correcting the distortions or deficiencies in our thinking. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy suggests that when we think negatively, it brings about a downward spiral of emotions, which can lead to depression and anxiety, which in turn lead to poor behavioral choices. However, CBT helps us become aware of our negative thoughts and change them into more positive ones so we can live healthier and more productive lives.

Change your brain

When we change our thoughts, we literally change our brains!

As we practice different ways of thinking over and over, our brains rewire themselves. This makes it possible for new, more effective, and productive ways of thinking to develop on their own. This does not happen overnight, and you will not accomplish it with occasional effort. It requires time and dedication to train the brain to work properly. Bodybuilders do not get exceptional muscle tone by coming to the gym randomly. It takes much effort to keep our minds healthy and strong, but the benefits can be spectacular.

Teaching strategies

When working with younger children, it can be hard to turn abstract ideas into simple, concrete examples from the child's everyday life that they can understand.

CBT is more likely to be successful if it is entertaining, engaging, and fun, and if the information is tailored to the appropriate age range.

Metaphors are a powerful tool for conveying and comprehending abstract concepts and their relationships to the real world.

Children as young as 5 years old have been said to use imagery. Positive coping images are used to give the child confidence and boost self esteem.

Thoughts bubbles. You could also show the child cartoons or pictures and ask him or her to guess what the people or things in the bubbles might be thinking.

The child's difficult situation can be acted out with puppet games, and the child can be asked to show or say what the puppets might be thinking or what they could do differently.

Becoming aware of how they feel. Emotional intelligence is a key part of many cognitive-behavioral therapy programs. It is meant to help children become aware of and tell the difference between their different feelings. For children to take part in such a process, they need to be able to recognize and talk about their feelings.

Negative automatic thoughts

The concept of negative automatic thoughts (NATS) is an important concept that can be taught easily to children.

Negative automatic thoughts are the fleeting bad thoughts that pass through our brains at various times during the day. They can feel almost obsessive as they are "unconscious," which refers to automatic thoughts occurring even when we are unaware of them.

If we pay attention to them, we notice that they remind us of how terrible life is now and how bad it is going to get in the future. They are typical "all or nothing" — black-and-white thoughts and ideas. Negative automatic thoughts have been linked to symptoms of depression, such as self-doubt, hopelessness, anxiety, anger, and irritability.

Typical NATS

They are consistently negative. "I really messed this up again."

They make you feel inferior. "I knew I wouldn't be able to do it. I am such a loser."

They are self-sabotaging: "If I attempt that, it will fail, so why bother?"

They are credible; you end up believing them because they are so convincing.

Consider the following to help with NATS

Writing down the answers makes it easier to recognize distorted thinking.

  • How can I determine whether this thought is accurate?
  • What supporting evidence do I have for this opinion or belief?
  • How can I determine if my assumptions and beliefs are accurate?
  • Do I have a trusted friend with whom I can discuss these ideas?
  • Is this thought helpful?
  • Are there other ways for me to think about this situation?
  • Am I placing unnecessary blame on myself?
  • What advice would I give a friend in this circumstance?
  • Am I taking this too personally?
  • Can I search for "middle ground"?

Benefits for teachers

There are several advantages for the teacher's own personal development:

  • Greater levels of self-awareness.
  • Increased awareness of your own negative automatic thoughts.
  • Learn to regulate your own emotions.
  • You discover tools for clear and rational thought.
  • Your core beliefs about yourself improve.
  • Self-efficacy grows.
  • You become more relaxed and mindful.
  • You develop improved coping mechanisms.
  • You learn to manage challenging situations by being less anxious and more easygoing.
  • You develop high levels of empathy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy programs in schools have been shown to help students learn how to solve problems, control their emotions, and think and behave in positive ways. By teaching children CBT in the classroom, we give them the skills they will need to deal with the problems they will face in life.


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