What is CBT?
For anyone living with emotional and psychological distress, the variety of therapeutic approaches available is vast and often confusing. Each approach has value and many people feel that there is one particular modality which suits them best. I offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and certain related approaches including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness, because (as indicated by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence -NICE) research evidence suggests that it is the most effective treatment for a range of common mental health conditions. I believe that CBT offers clients the possibility of regaining control of their lives in a way that is respectful, collaborative and cost-effective.
The idea behind CBT is that we develop patterns of thinking and behaviour in reaction to life experiences and events. These patterns may, initially, have served a useful function or defence against anxiety, distress or emotional discomfort. However, in many cases, these patterns outlive their usefulness and can start getting in the way of living healthy, happy and productive lives.
CBT enables clients to gain insight into their experiences of psychological distress and understand some of the ways in which thoughts and behaviour can maintain rather than alleviate anxiety, low mood and distress. As a CBT practitioner I work with clients to explore the patterns they have established and to consider alternative perspectives and ways of responding which can lead to identifiable improvements. Almost all CBT starts with a ‘making sense’ of the difficulties, which is called a formulation. The formulation is always uniquely personal and helps us rationalise what is often a perplexing experience of poor mental health, and it makes sense of where problems originated and how they may be addressed in therapy.
Myths About CBT
You may have heard or read that CBT is formulaic, or that it fails to acknowledge or consider the importance of past events when addressing difficult issues in the present. This is not the case. A good understanding of one’s development and early experiences is a key part of CBT. Although the immediate triggers for current or recent psychological difficulties may be clear and seen as an obvious cause of one’s distress (such as a bereavement or car accident) it is still important to understand one’s history in terms of coping and resilience. An important aspect of CBT relies on utilising one’s inherent strengths and resources.
CBT is highly collaborative. It is based on learning theory and relies upon experiential learning – often through devised experimentation, and therapy focus is always developed mutually. Clients are actively involved in the design of their own treatment goals and methods – with regular reviews built in to keep things on track. In CBT your therapist should always be working with you to support the changes you wish to make. CBT is NOT done to you.