What is Metacognitive Therapy and Why is it Worth Learning About?

Note: This article does not constitute medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before making any decisions regarding your health.

We often think of therapy as a conversation between two people, where one person shares their thoughts or feelings with another. But what if we could take that conversation to the next level? What if we could have a conversation about our own thought processes, too? That's where metacognition comes in.

When you go into an average therapist’s office, there are likely only two things going through your mind at any given time: how much you hate sitting here right now (or how excited you are about getting some free advice), and what exactly you expect from the session. 

You might share these goals with your therapist, but they're not necessarily his or her top priority—at least initially. For example, when working with couples who struggle to communicate effectively, therapists tend to focus more heavily on improving the quality of their communication rather than exploring underlying issues like resentment within relationships. 

In other words, most therapists will pay attention to how a client feels, then try to address those feelings later on. 

This method works well enough, but we all know that feeling better isn't always a good thing. Sometimes, we need something else entirely. We may be dealing with complex mental illnesses such as OCD, PTSD, or schizophrenia, which require specialized forms of treatment. Or maybe we just feel stuck in life. 

When nothing seems to work anymore, sometimes we need a fresh perspective—and that's why so many people turn to self-help books instead of professional counselors and psychiatrists. 

Self-help resources can provide insight into our problems without having to rely solely on someone else’s interpretation of them. And while self-help alone won’t solve everything, it has its place in today's society. 

How Does It Work?

Therapy, whether done professionally or by yourself, typically focuses on changing behaviors based on the beliefs held by whoever wants to change. For example, if you suffer from social anxiety, therapy usually involves learning new techniques to deal with different situations. If you find yourself constantly losing track of time throughout the day, therapy might involve teaching you ways to become more organized. 

However, therapy also tends to overlook one very important factor: understanding ourselves. Instead of focusing primarily on changing your behavior, therapy should also explore how you came to hold certain views and beliefs. 

The goal would be to understand how your current situation affects your thinking patterns. Once you do that, you can start making changes to improve your overall experience, both mentally and emotionally.

The reason why metacognition matters is because it allows us to recognize when we begin exhibiting negative thought patterns. By recognizing patterns early on, we can avoid falling into harmful habits. So instead of simply trying to stop worrying about the future, for instance, you can learn to acknowledge worry itself and make peace with it. 

You don’t get rid of worries altogether, but you learn to accept them instead of letting them ruin your entire mood. 

As you'll see below, metacognitive therapy helps clients identify unhealthy thought patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives. As a result, patients can gain more control over their 

emotions, allowing them to cope better with difficult circumstances. 

Who Uses This Method?

1) Anyone who struggles with repetitive thoughts or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms can benefit greatly from metacognitive therapy. 

People diagnosed with OCD generally exhibit unwanted thoughts repeatedly and compulsively, causing them unnecessary stress and anguish. Common activities associated with OCD include washing hands hundreds of times per week, checking doors multiple times per hour, and hoarding objects. 

While exposure therapy is effective at treating OCD, it doesn't account for the way OCD causes individuals to view themselves differently. 

Metacognitive therapy provides tools to teach clients how to use positive coping skills to combat OCD, helping them manage stressful thoughts more efficiently. 

2) Metacognitive therapy also helps people struggling with Generalized Anxiety Disorders. Many sufferers of Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD) live in constant fear of being unable to handle everyday challenges. They worry excessively about anything and everything, including job loss, financial difficulties, death, illness, etc. 

GAD takes up valuable energy and leaves no room for happiness. Because of this, people living with GAD may lose interest in hobbies and activities they once enjoyed. Fortunately, metacognitive therapy offers hope to anxious people everywhere. 

Clients learn healthy strategies to cope with excessive fears and anxieties, ultimately leading to greater emotional stability. 

3) The next example in line are patients suffering from Generalized Panic Attack. These are people who regularly exhibit panic attacks and often looks for ways on how best to treat their condition. 

Some choose medication or talk therapies like CBT or hypnotherapy. Others opt to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), used as a last resort against severe cases. Regardless of which option you pursue, research suggests that ECT is ineffective compared to psychosocial treatments like CBT, which targets the root cause of panic disorders. 

Another approach known as Metacognitive Psychotherapy (MCP) specifically addresses the core issue behind panic attacks and teaches clients how to develop alternative methods of managing and eliminating them. 

4) Individuals With Eating Problems can also get benefitted from Metacognitive therapy. Most eating disorders stem from similar psychological factors, including perfectionism, low self esteem, body image concerns, and poor coping skills. Dieters, in particular, often exercise extreme measures to stay thin, but end up harming their bodies far beyond repair. 

Unfortunately, traditional dieting techniques often worsen conditions such as bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Metacognitive therapy uses proven cognitive restructuring techniques to equip participants with specific coping mechanisms to overcome food cravings and maintain healthy lifestyles. 

5) Specific phobias can also be treated by metacognitive therapy. Phobias encompass a wide range of debilitating, irrational fears that affect millions worldwide. Examples include claustrophobia, agoraphobia, racism/discrimination, and generalised anxiety. 

One commonality among all types of phobias is that sufferers often engage in avoidance tactics to keep away from whatever triggers their reactions. Over time, however, avoiding scenarios becomes increasingly detrimental and leads to even stronger distress. Metacognitive therapy aims to reverse this pattern by encouraging clients to confront their phobic subjects head-on, developing healthy solutions along the way. 

While everyone experiences recurring thoughts and emotions every day, some spend a great amount of time ruminating on their worries endlessly. Learn more about about how Metacognitive Therapy can help you regain control over your thoughts and lead a happier lifestyle by talking to an expert. 


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