While psychologists have many tools at their disposal, for Dr. Jason Ediger, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective. Why is CBT such a valuable therapeutic offering? Because, as Ediger explains, when practiced daily — even briefly — CBT can deliver a healthier mind and improved quality of life, often within minutes. Here’s how it works.
To help people understand CBT, Jason Ediger takes a step back and focuses on the bigger picture. He says, “If we take any moment in human experience, we can break that moment down into three parts: What are you doing at that moment? What are you thinking at that moment? What are you feeling at that moment? Those three parts — thoughts, feelings, and actions — like to be balanced.”
That can result in changes in your actions, he adds, offering an example: “If we’re angry, we might be stomping around or avoiding people or punching walls or yelling. If we’re anxious, we’re thinking about how catastrophic this situation is going to be. [But] if we are happy, we are laughing and seeking out friends.” Given this natural human tendency, Ediger identifies a key challenge to maintaining mental well-being: “We have different levels of control over these three things.”
First, he clarifies, “We have no level of control over our feelings. If you have a partner or kids, I will sometimes say, ‘Stop loving them just for the next five minutes.’ People can’t do that.” If we can all acknowledge that truth, he wonders, “Why do we look at people and say, stop being anxious or stop feeling sad? They don’t have any direct control over that part either.” Luckily, however, there’s another element we can control. And that’s where CBT begins to play a role in building a healthier mindset.
The Power of Thought and Action
Dr. Jason Ediger acknowledges, “We have some control over thoughts, but not perfect control.” He notes, “We can add thoughts, we can’t delete thoughts. We have even more control over our behaviors. We can do something we really don’t want to do. We might not like it, but we can do it.” In understanding the limited control we have, Ediger adds, “What we’re doing with CBT is we are using the control we have over thoughts and actions to create tension in the system.”
Once that practice gains strength, he says, it “gradually starts to move the feelings along for the ride. We’re taking advantage of the two-way street [the need for our feelings, thoughts, and actions to find balance], but using the things we have more control over to do it.
“CBT is really useful for concrete [problems],” he adds, like “when you’re trying to figure something out that may be an irrational reaction to a normal situation, or a rational reaction to an abnormal situation.” To that end, he joined the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Institute of Manitoba, a group founded by Dr. John Walker around 20 years ago.
As one of the original graduate students to join the group, Jason Ediger has grown from learner to teacher. His goal was always to provide good, inexpensive treatment, provide education for grad students, and do a little research on the side. In the years since then, Jason Ediger has managed to apply his understanding of CBT to many parts of his clinical practice.
While there are some things we can change, other parts of life are not optional. Jason Ediger says “Those things we are not willing to feel, we often feel more of.” Not accepting our feelings can lead us to get angry about our anger, afraid of our fear, and sad about our sadness. There is something freeing about using acceptance to acknowledge that we are human and that not all parts of life are pleasant all the time. A choice to accept our feelings does not have to mean that we have to act on those feelings. But it can remove the extra shame and guilt that comes when we judge ourselves for having the feeling in the first place.
One of the first things Jason Ediger teaches people is to stop waiting for the feeling we want in order to start change. “When we make feeling like it or being comfortable a requirement for change, we are starting with the part we have the least amount of control over.” According to him, “Feelings make lousy reasons! When we combine feelings with values, however…” things can get clearer in a hurry. When we remember why we are working towards change, and focus on adding thoughts and small behaviors towards that goal, we stop waiting to feel like it and start doing it.
Of course, understanding these things and doing them can be two different things. Helping patients navigate that complex dynamic can be challenging and hard work. Thankfully, evidence supports the idea that with the right support, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
Even more importantly, Jason Ediger isn’t keeping his trade secrets to himself. “We try and do as much as we can to teach new generations of therapists.” That involves mentoring graduate students, having lunch and learn meetings as an organization, and working to cross-pollinate between members of the group with different specialties. In this way, he says, his CBT practice is ever-evolving, enabling himself and his colleagues to expand their therapeutic reach and to help an ever-growing patient population achieve a healthier mindset.