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Simply put, cognitive therapy deals with those emotions, behaviours and beliefs which are not serving you. We try to change the thought process in order to bring about change.
Psychiatrist Aaron Beck developed cognitive therapy in the 1960s. The theory behind the process is that “wrong” thinking triggers a self-defeating behaviour or inappropriate response to a situation. By examining the rationale (or lack thereof) behind these thought patterns, the therapist and client can alter the thought process and thereby the outcome.
Cognitive therapy can be useful for those suffering from fears or phobias, anxiety and mood disorders, insomnia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobias – and even anger management. We can use it for clients of all ages.
Role play is one way in which to utilize this form of therapy to benefit a client. For example, with a client who is dreading an interview, the therapist takes on the role of the interviewer. By analyzing his/ her responses after enacting the mock-scene, the client can see what s/he tends to do. The next step is to consider how to do it differently next time.
I like to role play the scene several times, for 2 main purposes. First, each subsequent re-enactment pushes the client out of his/her comfort zone. They build-up confidence levels and deal with fears (often a fear of authority). Secondly, it can help to desensitize the client, so s/he actually feels less fearful of the interview and the interviewer. Often we do this in increments so it doesn’t become too overwhelming and frightening.
By the time the client actually goes to the interview, his/her responses will be much different from how they would have acted without the role play. Much of the self-defeating behaviour has been “worked out” and the client stands a much better chance of responding in ways that will result in a positive outcome.
Fear of an interview is, of course, only one example in which role-play can be useful. We can use it to play out a scene in which a client is dreading a conflict with another person. A lot of people with “parent issues” find this form of cognitive behaviour therapy useful. “parent issues” go beyond necessarily dealing directly with one’s mother, referring to issues wherein their relationship with their mother lies at the core.
Whether you have “parent issues,” an impending interview, or you simply dread an upcoming “difficult” conversation that you must have, I would urge you to consider role-playing the scene with a qualified therapist who can analyze with you the patterns you tend to exhibit…and how you can change your response to arrive at an outcome different from what you “normally’ get in similar situations.
Note: Margit Herburger is an associate in the Practice of Dalton Associates.