Anxiety and anxiety related disorders can be medical, psychological, and spiritual problems. There are many treatment options, but what sets prayer apart from psychotherapy? Let’s see how prayer for anxiety compares to cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This popular treatment involves working with a therapist to reduce anxiety symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a goal oriented approach that uses specific strategies to deal with stress. Basically, if you can change your thoughts, you can change your mood and behavior.
Behavioral experiments are a type of CBT. It works by putting your thoughts to a test. For instance, you might have a problem with overeating. Your reaction to this could be to criticize yourself or be nice to yourself after eating too much. You can’t know which one works better, so you put it to the test. Each time you overeat, you consciously try one of these approaches. Then you see how each one affects your overeating afterwards.*
Once you discover which method is more effective, you keep using it to help reduce your anxiety.
So How Good Is CBT?
CBT has been shown in some studies to be quite effective, and many swear by it. One of the great advantages of CBT is that it helps you focus on the present situation and deal with it appropriately. CBT can help you handle problematic thinking such as:
- Overgeneralizing (“I’m always wrong.”)
- Magnifying the negative (“Being late to my appointment completely ruined my day.”)
- Minimizing the positive (“My party was fine, but some people didn’t show. They must hate me.”)
- End-of-the-world view (“I can’t believe that my project was so bad. I’m completely worthless.”)
CBT helps you replace these errors with realistic and appropriate thoughts to relieve stress and encourage positive behavior.
How Is Prayer Different From CBT?
In some ways, prayer is similar CBT. When you are in God’s presence, he teaches you to see things more realistically. He helps change your thought patterns.
The difference with prayer is in its power to heal. CBT provides you with coping skills to deal with the “here and now.” Prayer helps you resolve questions that are eternal. Questions about God’s existence and plan, your identity, suffering, purpose and future – even life after death – are all understood at their deepest level through prayer.
Like prayer, psychotherapy can help uncover hidden wounds , but profound understanding is harder to come by. Coping and knowing are not the same as healing. You can cope with cancer, but getting rid of cancer might only happen through a miracle.
Two Helpful Methods – One For Today, The Other For Eternity
Both methods take time and effort. No lasting change happens spontaneously. Both CBT and prayer have their merit, and one does not have to exclude the other. Prayer, however, changes you at a fundamental level – maybe even miraculously. If you trust that God’s Spirit can transform you, your faith will be rewarded.
Start praying today. Just open up your heart and begin to talk to God as you would a close friend. Tell him your worries and troubles. Ask him to help you. Ask him to extend his transforming love and mercy over you, and watch your life begin to change.
Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Image source (modified).
*This example was adapted from Dr. Alice Boyes article in Psychology Today.