Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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.

CBT has become one of the most popular forms of talk therapy and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for common mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. During the treatment, your therapist will work with you to help you focus on the “here and now”. They will help you recognise how past events may have shaped your thinking and behaviours, teaching you how to not only adapt your thoughts but manage them.

What is CBT?

CBT combines two approaches for a practical and solution-focused therapy. The therapy is very active by nature, so you may be expected to take a proactive role and complete tasks at home.

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.

Mental health charity, Mind, have made a video explaining CBT in more detail.

What to expect from CBT

CBT can be provided on a one-to-one basis, or as part of group therapy. Whichever format you choose, the relationship you have with your therapist should be a collaborative one. This means that you will take an active involvement in the therapy and have a voice when it comes to future progression. The issues you discuss with your therapist will be in confidence and without judgement to help you gain a new perspective.

The course of CBT can be anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on your circumstance. Usually, you will attend one session a week, with each session lasting between 50 minutes to an hour. At the start of your treatment, you will meet your therapist and discuss why you are seeking CBT. You will be able to outline what you hope to gain from CBT and set goals for the future.

Together with your therapist, you will work on the content and structure of your sessions. Your therapist may also set you certain tasks to do after the sessions at home.

As your therapy progresses, you will take a more prominent role in the sessions. You will start to decide on the content and structure of the session, without the help of your therapist. The idea is that once your treatment is over, you should feel confident and comfortable enough to continue the work on your own.

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