Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short, is a kind of psychotherapy that aims to help people deal with their problems by changing the way in which they think about them.
In the early days of CBT, therapists were focussed mostly on depression and anxiety, but the scope has increased enormously. While people with depression and anxiety can obtain great benefit from CBT, so can people who suffer from panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, phobias and a range of other problems. It has even been shown to help with serious psychological problems such as psychosis and schizophrenia.
CBT is a talking therapy that is carried out between a therapist and an individual, or between a therapist and a group of people. Unlike some other therapies, it doesn’t attempt to discover the reason for your problems based on events that happened in the past. Instead it focuses on what is happening to you currently in terms of your thought patterns and it helps you think about your problems in a different and more positive way. Even if your current problems do relate to traumatic experiences that happened in the past, CBT will help you find a way to beat them.
CBT is founded on the concept that our thought, feelings and behaviour are mutually influential. By altering our behaviour, we can alter our feelings and thoughts. When we are confronted with a problem, we can feel overwhelmed by its enormity and we can’t find a way through, we seem mentally blinded by it. CBT allows us to refocus on our problems and break them down into their various parts so that they become more manageable.
So what are the smaller parts? They may be any of all manners of things: for instance your feelings, your thoughts, your responses, your actions, your physical responses and sensations. The way in which these elements connect can create a negative whirlpool from which you can’t escape. You can lose your sense of self-worth and confidence; feel lonely, depressed and anxious; and end up trapped just feeling unhappy and alone. Often negative thoughts can just occur and leave us feeling bad which creates even more negative thoughts.
While you may feel that there is no way out from your negative patterns of thought, CBT will show that there are alternative ways to react. For instance rather than just feeling bad about mistakes you might have made in the past, it will help you learn from them so that you can move forward and be optimistic about the future.
How CBT Works
The first step is for the therapist to discover more about you and the nature of your problems. Your therapist will ask you about your background, your current problems, and how you feel about them. During the course of your therapy you will be helped to break your problems down to smaller issues and to understand the connections between them.
Initially you will work with your therapist to set several goals that you need to achieve. Your therapist will probably set you some exercises to go through in order to gain a better insight into your thought processes. You will also be expected to carry on with the work outside your therapy sessions, and you might be set homework to bring along with you to the next sessions.
At each session you will probably go over the conclusions from previous sessions and review the progress that you have made so far and how you are reaching your goals. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of your problems you are likely to be encouraged to replace negative thoughts by positive thoughts; to expose yourself more to situations that make you feel anxious; to keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings. Your therapist will understand the need to take things at a manageable pace, and you won’t be expected to do things that you find too difficult to cope with.
CBT has been demonstrated to be an effective way of treating a wide range of problems. Breaking down big unmanageable problems into smaller problems with which you can cope really does work for many people. CBT can teach you to think positively about yourself and the future.