Identify Your “Triggers”

Each person has specific types of situations that set their automatic negative path in motion; these are their triggers. To address your problems, you need to know which situations are difficult and trigger your negative path.

While many people are aware of their triggers, some have trouble identifying their specific trigger situations. For example, a person may tell you that they are “always” sad, or “always” drink too much, and can’t identify specific problematic situations. Identifying your triggers helps you start to see patterns and then know what to focus on in therapy.

A helpful first step is to monitor your problematic feelings or behaviors and see if there are some situations where your feelings are stronger or your behavior is more extreme. For example, a person came to therapy because they were always angry. When asked for examples of specific situations, they responded that they were angry “all the time.” The first homework assignment was to monitor their angry feelings and see when they were strongest. They came back having discovered that they were the most angry when their teenage son didn’t do what they wanted him to do; for example, when he did his homework at 2 a.m., broke curfew, or did not do his chores. They discovered that their anger toward her son was spilling over into the rest of her life.

Frequently, people will describe their trigger situation in vague terms, and don’t really understand what happened. They need to become more specific and concrete. A specific and concrete description includes what happened, with whom, and the specific time and place it occurred. For example, a vague description of a situation would be “My partner doesn’t respect my work”; a more concrete and specific description would be “My partner told me that they thought their work was more important than mine.”

The more specific and concrete your description of the situation, the more you will be emotionally engaged with the situation, and the more you will have access to your feelings and thoughts. Think of someone you are a little annoyed with. Now, think of a specific situation when you were annoyed with this person. Try to remember the situation in detail. Chances are that as you thought about a specific situation, you became more annoyed and your feelings and thoughts became more immediate.

Sometimes your situation is a long, complicated story. In this case, consider the whole story and then ask what was the worst or most difficult part for you. It is helpful to identify a situation that lasts from a few seconds to three minutes, any longer and you will probably have a large variety of feelings and thoughts, and it will be hard to focus on the main ones.

Sources: CBT Made Simple

A Structured Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Session

A structured session means that there is an order and organization to the therapy session. Here is a brief overview of the five basic components.

Check in. This is a quick update on what has happened since the previous session and includes a bridge to that session.

Set the agenda. You and your therapist decide together which problems to focus on in the current session. Homework from the previous session can be reviewed during the check-in or as part of the agenda-setting process.

Work the agenda. This involves addressing the identified problems on the agenda.

Homework. You and your therapist collaborate to develop homework for the following session.

Review. At the end of the session you briefly review with your therapist what was covered in the current session and give feedback.

Sources: CBT Made Simple

Austen Riggs Center Psychiatric Hospital

The Austen Riggs Center is an open psychiatric hospital and treatment program that promotes resilience and self-direction in adults (18+) with complex psychiatric problems. They specialize in the long-term treatment of psychiatric disorders with intensive psychodynamic psychotherapy and a full range of psychiatric services, offered in a completely voluntary continuum of care that includes inpatient, residential, and day treatment programs.

They treat the individual, not the diagnosis. Diagnostic labels cannot capture the essence of an individual’s struggles or strengths, and they often obscure what people have in common. Many of their patients have multiple diagnoses, and many have been identified as “treatment resistant” in the past. Often they seek psychiatric treatment at Riggs because they need a different approach, and many opt to stay in our long-term residential treatment program following an initial evaluation and treatment period.

All patients have intensive psychodynamic psychotherapy four times a week with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. The goal is to help the person expand their capacity for work, play, and love by fostering improved self-esteem and resilience, and by helping them acknowledge and come to terms with whatever has previously blocked their development.

Recognizing the importance of the social context, they offer in-depth family evaluation, support for family members, and family therapy, as well as a robust Therapeutic Community Program in which patients can develop supportive peer relationships and learn about themselves with others. They offer opportunities for participation in patient government, in social and recreational activities, in reflective process groups, and in health and wellness activities such as meditation and yoga.

The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center studies individuals in their social contexts through research, training, education, and outreach programs in the local community and beyond. Part of that offering includes an Adult Psychoanalytic Training Program and Fellowship in Hospital-Based Psychotherapy for psychiatrists and psychologists. The program takes a systems perspective, emphasizing cultural and familial contexts, as well as individual development across the lifespan.

The basic ingredients essential to fulfilling the Center’s mission are:

  • Treatment organized around an intensive individual therapeutic relationship, focusing on the patient’s recognition and tolerance of experiences of conflict and pain, leading to the development of a sense of perspective on the illness
  • An open therapeutic community involving all staff and patients
  • A careful assessment phase, including psychological testing
  • A range of programs, geared to individual levels of capability and need
  • Continuous treatment by the same multidisciplinary team as patients move between programs
  • Psychopharmacologic treatment
  • Group work, substance use treatment, family treatment and help with reintegration into the external community
  • A broad activities program offering creative expression, with patients in the role of student, and in a “treatment free zone”
  • Ongoing staff training, research and education to further the primary clinical task
  • Recruitment and retention of quality staff

Vision:

In an increasingly complex and fragmented world, the dignity of the individual, the importance of human relationships and the centrality of a sense of community are more difficult to find. The focus and traditions of the Austen Riggs Center orient the staff to help troubled patients meet these and other rapidly changing psychological challenges of contemporary society. We will continually build on our distinguished past, helping our patients develop personal competence in a completely open setting that emphasizes the individual’s capacity to face and take responsibility for his or her life—past, present, and future. We nurture our patients’ strengths, foster their social functioning and encourage family collaboration. Through our research and training programs, we educate professionals in our psychodynamic perspective, applying this learning to a broad range of psychosocial problems. Finally, in this time of diminishing mental health benefits, we will continue to develop cost-effective treatment settings that focus on individual psychotherapy, community living and that attend to resource limitations as both reality to deal with and metaphor for other limits and losses.

Values:

  • Affirmation of the dignity and responsibility of the individual
  • Recognition, appreciation and enhancement of individual strengths
  • Importance of human relationships
  • Respect for individual differences
  • Centrality of the psychotherapeutic relationship
  • Learning opportunities in a community of differentiated voices
  • Importance of examined living
  • Attention to the conflict between individual choice and the requirements of a community
  • Openness to innovation and creativity
  • Open setting to promote personal responsibility and freedom of choice in treatment
  • Importance of recognizing and preserving multiple roles, including those of student and community member
  • Provision of treatment based on quality and outcome, not profit

Located in the small New England town of Stockbridge, MA, three hours from New York City, two hours from Boston, and one hour from Albany, NY, the Austen Riggs Center is fully licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Health and accredited by the Joint Commission.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues. It’s often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific challenges. It generally requires fewer sessions than other types of therapy and is done in a structured way.

CBT is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may help you:

• Manage symptoms of mental illness

• Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms

• Treat a mental illness when medications aren’t a good option

• Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations

• Identify ways to manage emotions

• Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate

• Cope with grief or loss

• Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence

• Cope with a medical illness

• Manage chronic physical symptoms

Mental health disorders that may improve with CBT include:

• Depression

• Anxiety disorders

• Phobias

• PTSD

• Sleep disorders

• Eating disorders

• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

• Substance use disorders

• Bipolar disorders

• Schizophrenia

• Sexual disorders

During CBT

Your therapist will encourage you to talk about your thoughts and feelings and what’s troubling you. Don’t worry if you find it hard to open up about your feelings. Your therapist can help you gain more confidence and comfort.

CBT generally focuses on specific problems, using a goal-oriented approach. As you go through the therapy process, your therapist may ask you to do homework — activities, reading or practices that build on what you learn during your regular therapy sessions — and encourage you to apply what you’re learning in your daily life.

Steps in CBT

CBT typically includes these steps:

• Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life. These may include such issues as a medical condition, divorce, grief, anger or symptoms of a mental health disorder. You and your therapist may spend some time deciding what problems and goals you want to focus on.

• Become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these problems. Once you’ve identified the problems to work on, your therapist will encourage you to share your thoughts about them. This may include observing what you tell yourself about an experience (self-talk), your interpretation of the meaning of a situation, and your beliefs about yourself, other people and events. Your therapist may suggest that you keep a journal of your thoughts.

• Identify negative or inaccurate thinking. To help you recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to your problem, your therapist may ask you to pay attention to your physical, emotional and behavioral responses in different situations.

• Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking. Your therapist will likely encourage you to ask yourself whether your view of a situation is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of what’s going on. This step can be difficult. You may have long-standing ways of thinking about your life and yourself. With practice, helpful thinking and behavior patterns will become a habit and won’t take as much effort.

Length of therapy

CBT is generally considered short-term therapy — ranging from about five to 20 sessions. You and your therapist can discuss how many sessions may be right for you. Factors to consider include:

• Type of disorder or situation

• Severity of your symptoms

• How long you’ve had your symptoms or have been dealing with your situation

• How quickly you make progress

• How much stress you’re experiencing

• How much support you receive from family members and other people

Confidentiality

Except in very specific circumstances, conversations with your therapist are confidential. However, a therapist may break confidentiality if there is an immediate threat to safety or when required by state or federal law to report concerns to authorities. These situations include:

• Threatening to immediately or soon (imminently) harm yourself or take your own life

• Threatening to imminently harm or take the life of another person

• Abusing a child or a vulnerable adult ― someone over age 18 who is hospitalized or made vulnerable by a disability

• Being unable to safely care for yourself

Getting the most out of CBT

CBT isn’t effective for everyone. But you can take steps to get the most out of your therapy and help make it a success.

• Approach therapy as a partnership. Therapy is most effective when you’re an active participant and share in decision-making. Make sure you and your therapist agree about the major issues and how to tackle them. Together, you can set goals and assess progress over time.

• Be open and honest. Success with therapy depends on your willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and on being open to new insights and ways of doing things. If you’re reluctant to talk about certain things because of painful emotions, embarrassment or fears about your therapist’s reaction, let your therapist know about your reservations.

• Stick to your treatment plan. If you feel down or lack motivation, it may be tempting to skip therapy sessions. Doing so can disrupt your progress. Attend all sessions and give some thought to what you want to discuss.

• Don’t expect instant results. Working on emotional issues can be painful and often requires hard work. It’s not uncommon to feel worse during the initial part of therapy as you begin to confront past and current conflicts. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.

• Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to read, keep a journal or do other activities outside of your regular therapy sessions, follow through. Doing these homework assignments will help you apply what you’ve learned in the therapy sessions.

• If therapy isn’t helping, talk to your therapist. If you don’t feel that you’re benefiting from CBT after several sessions, talk to your therapist about it. You and your therapist may decide to make some changes or try a different approach.

Source: The Mayo Clinic