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Alexandrea Day founded iAffirm in 2020 to ensure that Adaptive Therapy would carry on after she could no longer, it being her vehicle to carry her legacy. She formed a 501 (c) 3 non-profit and donated her training, books, and process to it. Visit https://iaffirm.org

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How Does Adaptive Therapy Compare with Cognitive-behavioral Therapy?

Third-I / Inspiration  / How Does Adaptive Therapy Compare with Cognitive-behavioral Therapy?

How Does Adaptive Therapy Compare with Cognitive-behavioral Therapy?

Adaptive Therapy finds itself under the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) umbrella as a psychological therapy, founded on the premise that each of us is a human made of up of a state of consciousness, a subconscious and a conscience that is embodied for its expression and service. To offer a method to find purpose, it’s important that this method be described in two ways.  1) For those that need evidence-based methods that prove effectiveness vs. anecdotal results, and  2) For those that lean toward spiritual healing and integrate personal with faith.

CBT has been found to be the most effective method available to clients to discover and alter behavior that leads to well-being (Graske, 2010). It is based on the cognitive model of mental illness, initially developed by Beck, 1964. The cognitive model suggests that people’s emotions and behaviors are influenced by their perceptions of events and not by the situation itself. This means that a number of people could experience the same event and yet have different perceptions based upon past experience, knowledgebase, and whether or not a person has experienced the same event before (Beck, 1964).

Fundamental to the cognitive model is the way in which cognition (the way we think about things and the content of these thoughts) is conceptualized. Beck, 1976 outlined three levels of cognition:

  1. Core beliefs
  2. Dysfunctional assumptions
  3. Negative automatic thoughts

Core beliefs are beliefs about self, others and the world. Core beliefs are generally learned early in life and are influenced by childhood experiences and traumas throughout life.

In CBT dysfunctional assumptions are considered rigid, conditional ‘rules for living’ that people adopt. These may be unrealistic and therefore, maladaptive. For example, one may live by the rule that It’s better not to try than to risk failing’.  In the Adaptive Therapy perspective, a therapist would want to ask why a client has chosen to believe this to discover the core belief underlying it.  In fact, Adaptive Therapy seeks to identify the original event and the original feeling assigned to it, as originally perceived.  So, a therapist would ask, “Why do you feel _________(the feeling) when you experience ______________(the event) to drill down into the unconscious memory of it.  Once identified, in Adaptive Therapy we create a de-programming affirmation to uproot the old perception and then re-program what the client would like to belief instead.  These are then applied while practicing mindfulness over a period of a couple of weeks to make a permanent change in thoughts and behavior. Thousands of people have benefited from Adaptive Therapy as conveyed anecdotally.  New research is underway to validate anecdotal stories of success.

In CBT, negative automatic thoughts (NATs) are thoughts that are involuntarily experienced in certain situations.  In Adaptive Therapy we call these “triggers” by bubbling up to consciousness the feeling associated with the past experience, triggered by a current similar event.  In fact, we believe that this link (emotion) is the pathway to the core belief and tying the current event triggering the emotion is the direct link between the current and past experience.

In CBT, a formulation process is used to understand the causes, precipitants and maintaining influences of a person’s problems (Eels, 1997). The formulation is intended to make sense of the individual’s experience and aid the mutual understanding of the individual’s difficulties.

Formulations can be developed using different formats, exemplified by different ways of formulating, for example, depression. Beck et al, 1979 created a longitudinal formulation of depression. Within this formulation, early experiences contribute to the development of core beliefs, which lead to the development of dysfunctional assumptions which are later activated following an event which produces the symptoms of depression. Formulations can also be cross-sectional. For example, The ‘hot-cross bun model’ (Greenberger & Padesky, 1995), emphasizes how an individual’s thoughts, feelings, behavior and physical symptoms interact.  Adaptive Therapy has also found that the link between physical symptoms and emotional states, having many clients experience quick dissipation and end to physical symptoms upon the reversal of a core belief.

The formulation in Adaptive Therapy is that humans are programmed with thousands of core beliefs that produce angst if they are violated.  An example of violating a belief would be:  Being called on spontaneously to speak in front of a group surrounding him/her, when a core belief like, “I need to be quiet,” is triggered, resulting in an intense feeling such as being terrified and sensing the desire to vomit, hands start sweating, and as a feeling of light-headedness overwhelms them. Our core belief activates emotion-related brain areas triggering the observed physiological response (e.g., desire to vomit, sweating, light-headedness).

So, based upon the example above, two pieces of information must be identified during Adaptive Therapy, to ask the right question allowing drill-down to the core belief (I must be quiet):

  • Current Event that’s causing cognitive dissonance (asked in real-tie to stand up and speak to the group)
  • The negative feeling that bubbles up (terrified)
  • The question is posed to the client: “Why do you feel terrified when asked to speak in front of the group?”
  • In this example the core belief is: “I must be quiet.”

Just like in a computer, programming is to direct tasks in a specific way.  Humans are much the same only a computer can’t violate its programming whereas a human can.  However, once violation occurs, the host uses cognitive dissonance to compel conformity once again.  In the event above, the response would be, a shaking of the head, and possibly a murmur, “I can’t.”  In an hour or two cognitive resonance will return with stress hormones being dealt with biologically and the feeling of terrified lowering itself back into the unconscious world it resides in, attached to public speaking and most probably a number of other events and core beliefs.

If one retains faulty perceptions throughout life and interacts with the world, he/she will violate belief systems and cause “symptoms.”  A symptom could be a pain, ache, exhaustion, even pathology, etc. or an unwanted emotional state.  Therefore, it only makes sense to identify and modify any core beliefs that result in cognitive dissonance.  Even if one conforms well to their programming, the problem is that some of these perceptions will result in difficulty or inability to leverage one’s talents, develop a purpose in life or benefit from even luck coming their way.

The evidence-based research is underway for those that lean scientific. This methodology can also live within spiritual psychology, as the Self is recognized and seen as the real beingness of an individual, in contrast to personality being the identification of the person, as in some traditional psychological perspectives (Hofmann & Asmundson, 2008).

Adaptive Therapy recognizes the personality as a collection of core beliefs that allow categorization which is found to be self-limiting (Aldao & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). Anyone can modify their perceptions from experience and reframe them to generate instead a positive outcome, independent of personality.



Craske, MG. Cognitive–behavioral therapy. (2010) American Psychological Association

Beck, JS. Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. (1964) New York: Guildford Pres

Beck, AT. Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. (1976) New York, NY: International Universities Press.

Beck, AT, Rush, J, Shaw, B, Emery, G. Cognitive Therapy of Depression. (1979) New York: Guildford Press

Eels, T. Handbook of Psychotherapy Case Formulation. (1997) New York: Guilford Press

Greenberger, D, Padesky, C/ Mind Over Mood: A Cognitive Therapy Treatment Manual for Clients. (1995) New York: Guilford Press

Hofmann, SG, Asmundson, GJG. Acceptance and mindfulness-based therapy: New wave or old hat? (2008) Clinical Psychology Review, 28(1), 1-16.

Aldao, A, Nolen-Hoeksema, S. When are adaptive strategies most predictive of psychopathology? (2012) Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(1), 276–281.


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