The Power of CBT and Hot Cognitions in Depression Treatment

The word rehab is often used with treating addiction. It’s not commonly used as a term to describe healing from a psychological disorder, such as depression. However, the word rehab is simply a shorter version of the word rehabilitation, which means to rehabilitate or restore.


To restore your psychological well being, that is, to move out of depression and back to wellness, you might need to do some investigation. Often, that investigation can best be done with depression treatment, such as with a therapist.


A therapist has many tools in his or her toolbox that facilitates change in their clients; however, one very effective tool is a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Whether you’re a teenager suffering from depression or addiction or bipolar disorder, CBT can help.


Essentially, CBT aims to change the way you respond to life by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. It addresses unhealthy patterns of thought that lead to making poor choices. For instance, let’s say you’ve just completed an exam and you know you didn’t do well. You’re disappointed because you studied and you need that grade to stay on the football team. Instead of letting your anger and disappointment drive you to go out drinking with friends that night, with CBT you might be able to make a different choice. CBT helps you notice your trigger points so that they don’t get the best of you.


If you and your therapist decide to use CBT in therapy, you might learn the term hot cognitions. It’s a phrase used to describe the experience of a thought that leads to an emotional charge. In the example above, the thought, “I failed” might invoke anger and disappointment. It’s a hot cognition because it leads to an emotional zing inside. In fact, a hot cognition is any thought, image, memory, or inner experience that leads to an emotional response within. They are the sensitive areas inside. They are none other than getting your buttons pushed or getting flared up in some way emotionally.


In a way, they are like big neon signs that point to the areas of your inner experience that need tending to. These areas are those parts of you that need work; they need your attention and care. Interestingly, because hot cognitions are inner experiences that make you feel uncomfortable, the most common response is to avoid them and avoiding situations in which a hot cognition is likely to be experienced.


For instance, if you experienced rejection after rejection in life, you’re probably sensitive to getting to close to others. When you’re developing friendships or romantic interests, you might find yourself avoiding intimacy in order to avoid a painful rejection, which in the past might have led to drinking or overeating or getting high.


However, by avoiding the hot cognitions associated with rejection, such as in this example, you never allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying others. More importantly, through avoidance, you continue to believe in the thought that you’re going to be rejected by that person. By allowing yourself to get close to others, you give yourself the opportunity to change. That belief over time can create new experiences that are in line with being accepted by others.


You can get to know your cognitions by keeping track of when you feel emotionally charged by a situation or interaction. Then, by knowing your hot cognitions, you can make a different choice in the future. You can respond to life differently. Whereas in the past, failing an exam might have led to calling your drinking buddies, today it might lead to talking to your teacher about how you can improve. In the past, a decision to drink might have led to only more drinking and possibly even developing an addiction. However, today, in response to your hot cognitions, you take a step back and instead of reacting to your emotional charges, you respond. You respond by making the best choice for yourself and for others.


In this way, CBT provides healthy coping mechanisms to help manage challenging emotions, triggering life circumstances, and stress. This form of depression treatment can help you replace old coping methods that may have furthered dysfunction and stress with methods that are useful. CBT is a means for becoming emotionally aware.


If you hope to rehabilitate or restore your well being, ask your therapist about CBT and watch it transform the way you think.