Written by: Toni Foot
What is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy designed to help individuals change the way they think about challenging situations. It is commonly used to treat people suffering from a range of mental disorders including:
- Post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Anger management difficulties.
Changing the thought patterns
The key principle of CBT is to help the person to see clearly how they think and respond to certain situations and learn how to change their thought patterns to create more positive experiences. For example, if you were suffering from depression you may feel like everything you do goes wrong and therefore conclude that you are worthless. Having identified your thought pattern, the therapist may offer you alternative ways to view your situation (perhaps by encouraging you to consider times when you have been successful at something). They may also ask you to challenge your assumption by attempting to do something new, or by keeping a record of the things you do and making a note of how successful they were. This may help you to see that you can be successful and that there are positive things in your life that your depression may cloud from your thoughts. In addition to adjusting how you think about situations, CBT therapists will give you a range of techniques that you can use to help you deal with high-pressure circumstances. For example, they may tell you to try writing down your thoughts when you feel really down, then to destroy the page to release some of your tension.
CBT is a short-term treatment (often lasting between 6 weeks and 6 months) and is most effective when the individual is suffering from an identifiable issue (rather than general low moods) and is willing to work towards recovery.
Could CBT help me?
If you are suffering from any of the disorders listed above, CBT could be a very effective treatment for you. It can also work for other disorders, so if you are unsure it is definitely worth looking into it further if you think it could help you.
CBT is not a magic pill that will make everything better immediately; it will take time to have an effect and requires active participation from the patient. However, if the principles of CBT are followed and the coping strategies used, they can provide life-long methods of avoiding reoccurring mental difficulties.
When is CBT less effective?
There are some people who may find alternative forms of therapy more effective in treating their problems. One example of such a situation is an individual who has a complex disorder, perhaps with several issues at once. In this case, a short-term therapy like CBT may not be effective because the causes of the problematic thought processes may not be clearly identifiable meaning that changing the thought process is very difficult. In this case the individual needs a more long-term treatment in which they can work through the complexities of their problems with a therapist.
CBT may come to your attention from a variety of sources. Perhaps you have read an article about it, heard from a friend who has had experience of it, or perhaps someone (such as a GP) recommended CBT to help you. However, you must make sure that you are embarking on a course of CBT because you want to get better, not just because you think it is a good thing to do or to please family and friends. If you are not ready to be helped, your therapist will not be able to make a difference to the way you feel.
If you think CBT can help you, speak to your GP. They can help you to establish what your problem is and to direct you towards the therapist most likely to be able to help you. Your GP may offer you other treatments alongside CBT (such as support groups or medication). These can be helpful in providing immediate relief from the symptoms you are suffering, which in turn can help you to make the most of the CBT when it becomes available (you may have to wait for a while before you can access CBT).
The mental health charity ‘Mind’ provides a wealth of information about a wide variety of mental disorders and possible methods of treatment on their website which is a valuable resource for anyone looking for help.