Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used type of therapy across the globe. Therapists can use it to treat a wide range of conditions — and it’s an effective therapy for lots of people.
Here’s what you need to know about it:
What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy — or CBT — is a talking therapy for mental health conditions. It’s based on the idea that our thoughts and behaviour are connected. It helps people understand and challenge thoughts that negatively impact their behaviour. It typically takes place over a fixed number of sessions and is a solution-focused type of therapy.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT works by helping people understand their thoughts and the way they influence behaviour.
To start with, the therapist will work with you to assess current thought patterns. These often include cognitive distortions, which contribute to symptoms.
For example, many mental health conditions involve a degree of mental filtering. This happens when we focus all our thoughts on the negative aspects of a situation and struggle to see any positives.
Understanding current thought patterns is an essential first step. Once you have developed this understanding, the therapist can help you with the next two steps:
- Challenging and replacing the distorted thoughts with more constructive thoughts.
- Changing how you behave in response to any triggers.
This is what makes CBT so effective. It enables people to develop an understanding of their disorder, and then take positive steps to change it.
This is a powerful combination — and one that works.
What Can CBT Help With?
CBT has been applied successfully to a wide range of mental health conditions. Here are some of the most common conditions it’s used to treat:
CBT was originally developed to treat depression — and remains one of the most widely used forms of therapy for the condition today. Computerised versions of CBT have also been developed to help people with depression treat themselves at home. The therapy helps identify any negative thoughts contributing to the depression and replace them with more accurate, rational ones.
It also helps you identify any behavioural changes that could help improve your mood. For example, people with depression often find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, and they also tend to withdraw from friends and family, as well as activities they previously enjoyed. CBT can help you to gradually make changes to these areas of your life, in a way that feels manageable.
CBT is one of the most effective forms of therapy for anxiety. It can help treat many types of anxiety, such as panic disorder, social anxiety, and phobias.
The thought challenging aspect of CBT is critical for the treatment of anxiety — cognitive distortions are often responsible for the heightened feeling of anxiety (e.g. ‘catastrophising’, or focusing on the worst-case scenario).
The behavioural component of CBT for anxiety often involves graded exposure, which means gradually facing your fears rather than avoiding them, in a way that allows you to manage and reduce your fear at each step. This is a highly effective aspect of CBT for anxiety.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
CBT is one of the key treatment options recommended for OCD.
Therapy involves understanding what is driving your unwanted intrusive thoughts and rituals and learning to respond differently so that they decrease over time.
As well as understanding the thoughts that lead to driving the compulsive behaviour, CBT can help people suffering from OCD challenge their behaviour too.
It asks the question:
What would happen if you resisted your compulsions?
For example, if your OCD is driven by a fear of contamination, your CBT therapist might slowly encourage you to challenge this fear. This might involve using a gradual approach to touching objects you consider to be contaminated, without then engaging in handwashing. Over time, repeated exposure helps reduce symptoms.
CBT is an effective treatment for many eating disorders, with different types of CBT used for different disorders.
It is one of the most effective ways to treat bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder — so tends to be the first line of treatment for these conditions.
Anorexia nervosa tends to be more complex and involves a multi-disciplinary approach. But CBT plays an important role and is one of the most recommended types of treatment.
People with schizophrenia often suffer from psychosis, which includes delusions or hearing voices. These symptoms can be extremely stressful, and the stress has been found to make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse.
CBT can disrupt this negative cycle, helping people cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life — especially when used following an early diagnosis.
What are the Benefits of CBT?
Cognitive behaviour therapy has many benefits over other forms of therapy when it comes to treating mental health conditions. Here are a few of them:
1. It gives people hope about their condition
The nature of mental health conditions means sufferers often feel pessimistic about their future. It can be hard to think ahead to a time where your illness will no longer impact you.
CBT changes this — giving people hope.
It does this by helping people see that our thoughts are not always accurate. They do not always represent what’s likely to happen in reality.
When we learn how to challenge our thoughts, we open our minds to new possibilities. The possibility that life could be very different.
2. It helps people develop self-esteem
Many mental health conditions are associated with low self-esteem.
This feeds into the cycle of negative thoughts influencing behaviour, and vice versa.
But CBT can disrupt this pattern — and help you develop more confidence in your own abilities.
When you start to understand how your thoughts work — and how they are under your control — your entire belief system changes. This includes the way you view yourself.
3. It can help people relax
The behavioural aspect of CBT helps us learn to control how we respond to our symptoms.
A lot of the time, this involves developing calmer responses using a variety of relaxation techniques.
This helps us to regulate our responses to triggers and reduce symptoms.
4. It develops more rational thought processes
The main benefit of CBT is that it helps us gain control of our thoughts.
Cognitive distortions are common and often happen automatically, without question.
Over time, the process of questioning and replacing negative thoughts can transform our thought processes.
You no longer allow negative thoughts to take control but can think rationally and evaluate the appropriate response to difficult situations.
To conclude, CBT is a highly effective form of talking therapy with a wide range of applications. It might not be suitable for everyone — or may need to be used alongside other forms of therapy treatment for the best results — but it’s often a very good place to start.
To find out more, please contact MyLife Psychologists.