Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT combines a cognitive approach (examining your thoughts) with a behavioural approach (the things you do).

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy. It helps you manage problems by helping you recognise how your thoughts can affect your feelings and behaviour. CBT combines a cognitive approach (examining your thoughts) with a behavioural approach (the things you do). It aims to break overwhelming problems down into smaller parts, making them easier to manage.

The idea behind CBT is that our thoughts and behaviours influence each other. The premise is that, by changing the way we think or behave in a situation, we can change the way we feel about life. The therapy examines learnt behaviours, habits and negative thought patterns with the view of adapting and turning them into a positive.

Unlike some other therapies, CBT is rooted in the present and looks to the future. While past events and experiences are considered during the sessions, the focus is more on current concerns. During a CBT session, your therapist will help you understand any negative thought patterns you have. You will learn how they affect you and most importantly, what can be done to change them.

CBT looks at how both cognitive and behavioural processes affect one another and aims to help you get out of negative cycles. The emphasis on behavioural or cognitive approaches will depend on the issue you are facing. For example, if you are suffering from anxiety or depression, the focus may be on the cognitive approach. If you have a condition that causes unhelpful behaviour (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder), the focus is likely to be the behavioural approach.

This type of therapy is particularly helpful for those with specific issues. This is because it is very practical (rather than insight-based) and looks at solving the problem. Some of the people that may benefit from CBT include:

  • Those with depression and/or anxiety.
  • People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Those with an eating disorder.
  • People who have an addiction.
  • People who are experiencing sleeping problems, such as insomnia.
  • People who have a fear or phobia.
  • Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Those who want to change their behaviour.

In some cases, CBT is used for people with long-standing health problems, such as chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While the therapy cannot cure physical illness, it can help people cope better with the symptoms and lower stress levels.

How does CBT work?

Cognitive behavioural therapy looks to help you make sense of what can feel like an overwhelming problem by breaking it down into more manageable parts. These smaller parts are your thoughts, feelings, actions and even physical sensations. These elements are interconnected and can often trap you in a negative spiral. For example, if your marriage or relationship has ended, you may think you have failed and that you are not capable of being in a functional relationship. These thoughts can result in you feeling lonely and lacking energy. When you feel like this, you are unlikely to want to socialise or go out and meet new people. This negative spiral can then trap you into feeling isolated and unhappy.

Rather than accepting the negative thought patterns, CBT aims to show you other ways of reacting so you can break out of negative cycles. Instead of thinking that you are a failure when a relationship ends, you can choose to learn from your mistakes and move on. This new way of thinking may result in you feeling more energised and confident, helping you meet new people and one day, start a new relationship.

While this is a simplified example, it does illustrate how easy it is to get trapped in negative cycles and how changing the way you think and behave can affect you in a significant way. In CBT, you will learn to recognise your thoughts, behaviours and feelings while learning other, potentially more helpful ways of thinking and behaving.

As well as identifying negative thought patterns, CBT can teach you the skills you need to help you deal with different problems. The hope is that once you develop these coping skills, you will be able to use them in the future, whenever you may need them. For example, if you have a phobia or suffer from anxiety, you may discover that avoiding certain situations can actually increase your fears. Confronting the fears in a gradual and manageable way can help you gain faith in your ability to cope. If you suffer from depression, your therapist may ask you to note down your thoughts so you can explore them in a more realistic way. This can help you gain perspective and start to break the negative cycle.

Being committed and doing the assignments set for you is an integral part of CBT. While the sessions offer support and space to explore your concerns, it is the work you do outside of your sessions that is likely to have the most impact. By staying focused and completing assignments, you will help yourself progress quicker. This way you will hopefully start to develop a stronger sense of self-confidence and self-belief.

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