CBT - WHAT IS IT AND HOW CAN IT HELP?

Even if you’ve not had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) before,
odds are you’ve at least head about it.

It’s one of the most common forms of therapy practiced in the UK, and it’s widely used in the NHS.

However, because of this fact, there are some misconceptions about what CBT is and how it can help. For example it’s usually considered the ‘quick fix’ because if you do receive CBT on the NHS you may only be offered a limited number of sessions, and it’s commonly used for issues such as anxiety and depression. 

In reality there is much more to CBT than most people realise, so we wanted to dispel some of the myths and highlight the incredible benefits that CBT can have, no matter what challenges you are facing.

CBT - What Is It?

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and in its most simple form, CBT explores the link between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

It’s called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy because it’s based on the principle that much of our mental distress originates from our thoughts (that’s the cognitive part). Our thoughts then make us feel a certain way (often bad) and because we feel bad, we act in unhelpful ways (that’s the behavioural part). The therapy aims to break these cycles. 

Here’s an example which is fairly common: imagine you do a project at work. You hand it to your boss who offers some critical feedback. As a result you may think something along the lines of ‘I’m useless, I can’t do anything’, this then makes you feel sad/worried/anxious/hopeless. When you feel this way, you may then not make as much effort on the next project because you think you’re useless and feel anxious.

Unfortunately, odds are, because you didn’t feel confident enough to put in the effort, the next project will possibly also get negative feedback. This loop will just start all over again and you’ll become even more convinced you’re useless! 

Firstly: we are 100% confident that you are definitely not useless! 

Even if you did get some negative feedback on a project, or made a mistake, that is just one very small part what happened and logically shouldn’t have the power to ruin your day. Plus, it’s more than likely your boss also had some very positive things to say about your work as well. They may have even said more nice things than bad.

However, due to our biology we are wired to look for the ‘dangers’. This means it’s far too easy to focus on the negatives and completely ignore the positives. The trouble is, the more you do this, the harder it becomes to see any positives at all and this is where anxiety, depression, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders often arise.

We know how easy it is to get trapped in a negative loop like that, and how difficult it is to break free on your own, especially if it’s been going on for a while. Luckily, that is where CBT comes in

CBT - How Can It Help?

The reason CBT is so often the therapy of choice in the NHS is because it’s proven to be effective. Now, we should say that it’s not the best option for everyone, and as with all aspects of wellbeing, we actively encourage you to trial as many therapies as you need to find the one that works best for you.

That being said, CBT is an excellent place to start for many of the most common mental health issues, and there is a great deal of evidence to demonstrate how effective it can be.

In particular, CBT has been shown to be very helpful for:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic attacks

It has also been found to be beneficial for more severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and psychosis, as well as certain physical disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronicle Fatigue (ME), and Fibromyalgia.

As mentioned above, when you receive CBT on the NHS you may be offered a limited number of sessions – usually 6 or 12. This is because in many cases 6 or 12 sessions of CBT can be more than enough to help you deal with an acute period of emotional distress. However, some people find that more sessions are necessary, and this is something to discuss with your therapist as you progress through the treatment. If you are attending NHS treatment you may or may not be able to apply for more sessions. If you visit a private therapist you can attend as many as you feel are necessary. The key to successful CBT outcomes is keeping track of your progress, and this is something both you and your therapist will do throughout the sessions.

But in CBT it is not about your therapist trying to ‘fix’ you or even them telling you how to fix yourself. Instead, CBT aims to equip you with the tools you need to be able to address your mental health challenges yourself. Throughout the process your therapist will help you explore, test, and evaluate the different tools available, so that you can build up a toolkit of approaches that you can use whenever you need to.

There are a lot of different methods used to do this, and it could be as simple as keeping a journal to help you monitor and critique your thoughts and feelings to prevent a new cycle of negativity. Other techniques could include mindfulness, exercise, or assigning yourself ‘worry time’. One of the biggest benefits of CBT is that it’s so flexible it really can be adapted to your needs, which means you get the best possible outcomes.

While your therapist will be there to help you get started, and is on hand if you need help along the way, the ultimate aim of CBT is to help you to become your own therapist, and there’s little better for your wellbeing than feeling in control of your own mental health.

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