Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a bit hard to pin down. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people. The common thread is that it’s a therapeutic technique that teaches people how to identify “inaccurate negative thoughts” that can cause depression and anxiety and find “healthier ways to view the situation” (WebMD). Put simply, it’s talking yourself out of your negative beliefs. “I am stupid,” then, becomes “I didn’t study hard enough for the test,” and “No one like me” becomes “I haven’t reached out to new people and offered friendship.”
Sound familiar? Sure it does. The Work is a lot like CBT. Some might even argue that it’s a subset or an offshoot. Who can trace the history of an idea? In any case, in this, the first of several special sections for this serial, is a list of the major differences between these two great practices.
CBT Versus The Work
1. CBT is widely used by professionals and non-professionals worldwide. According to Wikipedia, CBT is “the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders.” So there’s that.
2. CBT is well-studied and proven to be effective. It’s the therapeutic technique with the most proven results. The National Institute of Health and many other respected organizations claim that it both alleviates depression and prevents relapses, and does so as well or better than medication.
3. The Work is simpler. In spite of my musings on the complexity of Byron Katie’s process, it is as simple as it can realistically be. CBT can be simple, too; there are many, many versions of it. But Katie went to great effort to reduce the process to a teachable form.
4. The Work has the guru. And I like a guru. There’s something about a truly inspired teacher that sets a fire in you, the believer. Byron Katie is beautiful. She’s a human, but superhuman. She convinces us that deep, abiding inner peace is possible.
5. The Work is more dramatic. In doing the Work, we question everything. Anything and everything, even the reality of our own firsthand experience. This leads to some really deep, really insightful conclusions–conclusions we never see coming. An example: In CBT I might take the thought “I am depressed” and change it to “I feel some depression now, but it will pass. I am very good at finding new and creative ways of coping, and I’m very good at taking care of myself.” All good stuff. While working through Katie’s turnarounds, though, my results look much different. They cause me to examine the basic truth of the negative thought. “I am depressed” might become “I am not depressed in any essential way. My natural self is joyful and at peace. I am not suffering from a condition called depression. I am merely experiencing a temporary feeling that is the natural result of my habitual thought patterns up until this time.” Big difference. When you’re able to see that not only is your thought not true, but the exact opposite is true, something does shift inside you.
6. The Work feels more spiritual. While the Work can be done from an agnostic perspective, in practice it often brings us back to our core spiritual understandings. Many of the thoughts we want to get rid of have to do with death, loss, and animosity. When we believe, as Byron Katie does, that there is no death, and there is no loss, and all animosity is just misdirected ego . . . well, it really puts things into perspective. I’m not sure if you’d be able to completely turn around a thought about a seemingly undeniable factual experience if you didn’t believe, as Katie does, that reality is an illusion and truth is relative.
The way Byron Katie looks at things—the perspective you get from her while reading her book—is based on the idea that in the end, we’re really all okay. The stock market crashed? You lost all your money? Your wife is cheating on you right now, as we speak? Welcome it. Welcome it all. There’s even an analogy she gives about the peace people feel while plummeting to the ground with a broken parachute. And she’s right—that really does happen. Even in life-or-death circumstances, she says, the only real problem is our mind. And it’s that ultimate view of reality that in the end, none of this shit really matters that makes her often extreme positions on temporal pain tenable.
Far be it from me, though, to recommend one process over the other. I like both. I do both.
I’m thankful for the choice.
Read the rest of the series at My Byron Katie Detox: One Year of Questioning My Unhelpful Thoughts.