How does it work?
CBT is a theraputic treatment often used to help patients dealing with depression, anxiety and stress. It is also helpful for people who have a low opinion of themselves, or suffer from physical health problems such as pain or fatigue that may make them prone to adopting a negative outlook on the world.
CBT works to change the way you think about situations, as when you’re depressed or anxious you tend to think pessimistically, predicting the worst or drawing negative conclusions about an event. Having uncomfortable feelings about a situation then leads to unhelpful behaviour, and will in turn affect what you choose to do about a situation- for example, those with anxiety may feel overly self-conscious thanks to low self esteem, leading them to feel panicky in social situations and eventually causing them to avoid them whenever possible. Patterns such as this then only magnify the intial fear or feelings of negativity- it’s a vicious cycle!
CBT seeks to halt this cycle by helping you break down thoughts and reactionary behaviours into smaller parts so you can understand how they are connected and how they affect you. When you can see the progressive sequence of negative thoughts (cause) and how they trigger unhelpful actions (effect) more clearly, you can change how you act and therefore the way you feel – better reactions to an event equal better feelings about it. It’s like a refreshingly positive and productive chain- reaction.
CBT is a talking treatment that can be praticised individually (one-on-one with the therapist), or within a group of people who have found themselves in a similar situation. Individual courses of treatment with a therapist can last from 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on the severity of the problem and how well CBT is working for you. Usually you will meet with a therapist for weekly or fortnightly sessions that last between 30 and 60 minutes. After the first couple of appointments, the therapist will check to see how you feel about the treatment's effectiveness to assess your progress.
Even though CBT likes to keep the focus in the here and now, sometimes something from your past could be what is causing you problems and so therapists will often ask you about your past, background and how they may have shaped your behavioural patterns.
Working with your therapist, you will learn to break down problems that you find yourself encountering and how you have reacted to them into separate parts. Together, you will try to find out if your feelings, thoughts, or behaviour are unhelpful or unrealistic and how they are affecting you in the long- run and during your day to day life. Once the negative thoughts are identified, the therapist will help you to change these unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, emphasising how they are often irrational or exaggerated.
Your therapist will recommend that you do “homework”- no not traditional Maths or English- which involves practicing the skills you have learnt in therapy in your day to day life in order to make them become as natural as possible. This is essentially the whole point of CBT; to develop and practice skills you have learnt during sessions in order to make your life more enjoyable and your thoughts less intrusive more rational. This “do it yourself” element aims to create a situation where you no longer need therapy and are back to your happy, confident self again!
Is it for me?
If you think you may need CBT, your GP can refer you to a trained CBT psychologist, nurse, social worker or psychiatrist, or you can find an accredited list of therapists via the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.
CBT has been proven to be an effective way of treating depression or anxiety; however each person is different and it is possible that another talking treatment could work better for you. Those with severe depression may need the help of anti- depressants medication to ease symptoms, as when you are severely low it is hard to get motivated, to stop feeling guilty and ashamed and to actively focus on changing to eliminate such negativity.
CBT is slightly more effective for those who suffer from anxiety and those who have a low opinion of themselves than antidepressants due to its focus on fixing fearful and shameful cycles of behaviour.
Good to know...
Certain centres also offer an online CBT service, so if you suffer from a severe form of a condition like agorophobia or have other health and mobility problems, you can complete a series of sessions from home.