CBT is a buzzword you may have heard being used in the media or by a healthcare professional. So what is it exactly and how might it help?
What is CBT?
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Its a talking therapy that looks at how we think about a situation and how this affects the way we act. In turn, our actions can affect how we think and feel. The Counsellor and client work together in changing the client’s behaviours or thinking patterns, or both.
Cognitive refers to your thought patterns and mental processes. This includes memories, images, thoughts, where you focus your attention and even your dreams.
Behaviour refers to everything that you do. This includes what you say, how you solve problems, how you act, what you avoid.
Therapy describes the systematic approach to combating a problem.
A good summary would be to say you think how you feel. The first thing that I always say to my clients is the thing I wish someone had told me when I was growing up – not all the thoughts you have are true.
Unhelpful Thought Patterns
CBT suggests that it isn’t events themselves that upset you, but the meanings we give to them. We are all prone to unhelpful thought patterns, which can block us from forming a more balanced view. For example, we may be likely to see things as black and white, might be prone to self-criticism, we may catastrophise, we may only notice negative events and discount positive events, or perhaps we are forming an unachievable expectation of ourselves with lots of ‘shoulds and musts’.
A defining characteristic of CBT is that it gives you the tools to move forwards to develop a focused approach and set goals about how you’d like to feel and behave. Working with a Counsellor using structured techniques can help to identify your natural thought processes, and how this can cause problematic feelings and behaviours. You may then work on little challenges or experiments throughout the week to practice the techniques you learn to help you to make changes.
For example, you might have anxiety that whenever you go out, everyone is looking at you, and this thought is causing you to want to avoid going out. After some discussion and support, your Counsellor might set you the task of standing outside a shop and looking into the glass window at the reflection behind you, so that you can watch the people passing by. Is it true that everyone is looking at you? You might make a note of how many people are looking at you. It might turn out that no one even glanced your way!
What CBT is useful for
CBT has been proved to help treat a wide range of emotional and physical health conditions in adults, young people and children. It can be a useful part of working with anxiety, depression, OCD, behavioural difficulties, anger management and more.
As an Integrative Counsellor, I have CBT as one of the techniques in my toolbox that I bring out from time to time to help clients work through their emotional difficulties.