Alternatives to Reading or Written Exercises in CBT

This blog post is a little different from usual as I am using speech-to-text technology to write a significant chunk. My reason for doing this is simply because I have painted my nails, and so I am trying to avoid using my hands for now. 😉 But while I was trying to figure out how to use dictation on iMac, I was thinking about how some people are opposed to CBT due to the typical process it involves.

When I have tried CBT sessions in the past, I generally would have a conversation with the specialist. They will then take notes based on what I share. I consider the notes to be a prescription of sorts. I will then be advised to read it regularly, such as once every morning or evening, eventually maybe once a week or even once a month as things progress. Eventually, I won’t really need to view them at all, though the notes are still there if I ever need it. For myself, it is not so much of a barrier. If it takes me a few minutes to eventually resolve a major issue I’ve been struggling with, then good. But now, I can understand a bit more of why people may be opposed to this part of the process.

For some, reading and writing reminds them of dreaded homework or feels very unnatural, maybe forced such as with self-discipline. And while in my head I can rationalize that a little bit of reading and writing to fix a long-term issue seems worth it for me, I can understand that not everyone feels the same way. It’s the same as asking someone who does not enjoy physical activity to just hit the gym. It’s the same as telling someone who loves sugar to stop binging on ice cream every time they see it. So instead, i’m gonna suggest an alternative to reading and writing, and maybe even suggest something simpler to start with.

Whenever I worked with someone who specializes in CBT, they would write the notes as we are talking. When you try to do CBT by yourself, typically there are written exercises involved and they will guide you to log your thoughts or feelings or behaviors. Well, the thought occurred to me that instead of writing it down, you could also record yourself answering these questions. You can do this through dictation, or you could simply just record an audio through your phone, your computer, anything… It doesn’t have to be super sophisticated or complicated.

Instead of reading your CBT notes, you can listen to your audio recordings. Depending on the technology that you have access to, you could also get the written notes read to you so that you can hear it. That is, if you prefer audio.

Personally, I enjoy writing down my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors along with the ideas to try, as it helps me to process the information much more easily. It also provides me a clear track record of everything that had transpired. I think if I were to do everything verbally, especially if I have no recording of it, then I would miss a lot of nuances. Part of it is that I can skim written notes and catch the main points easily, vs. skimming through audio.

The reason I consider CBT notes to be a prescription of sorts is because like medication, it may be important in the short-term to consume it at regular intervals to deal with a major problem at hand. Eventually, you start to feel better. And then, you taper off, to the point where you don’t need it at all. It is like homework or review at school, a bit, which people my hate me for saying. But even in school, the homework changes based on what you’re learning. And unlike school, you get to choose what you want to work on, what matters most to you, and what area you would like to improve.

So for anyone who is not giving CBT a try due to the written exercises or regular readings, consider looking into dictation. Try recording an audio if you don’t have dictation. Heck, it might even be more helpful for yourself personally to speak your thoughts out loud and to process what is going on. It really depends on your preferred mode of learning and taking in information, and you may even benefit from switching back-and-forth between the different modes.

Whew, that was a weird experience, using dictation vs. typing out a blog post. Now that my nails are a little more dry, I am back to typing. I think speaking out my thoughts helped me to realize more why people may be opposed to writing/reading in therapy. Why lean into something you already resist? So, I’m trying to lean more into, “What would make this irresistible?”

Personally, I have never tried dictation or recording audios for CBT. Well, aside from a quick paperclip meditation that was recorded as a coping exercise. But even then, that exercise was written in my notes as a reminder. So, I don’t know what is the best way to do that. My suspicion is that when Aaron Beck developed these methods, he used his preferred mode of sharing/consolidating information, which was through writing. And, I think it would be beneficial if they could incorporate other ways to take in the information, such as what I had explained with speaking/hearing. Maybe that would draw in more people to try it out. I think it would be worthwhile to explore this possibility and to expand on the methods used in CBT.

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