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What is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular form of talking therapy that can help improve how you feel by changing the way that you think (‘Cognitive’) and act (‘Behaviour’).

CBT is based on the idea that the way you think affects the way that you feel and behave. Unhelpful thoughts are likely to lead to negative feelings and behaviours.

For example, you may think that you are a failure for losing your job. This makes you feel low and unmotivated and you stop leaving the house. You may then become trapped in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours. CBT aims to break this vicious cycle.

Unlike some talking therapies, CBT focuses on your current problems rather than on your past. CBT aims to break down your problems into manageable chunks and tackle them one at a time.

What does a CBT session involve?

CBT can be carried out either face-to-face with a therapist or online using video-conferencing software, such as Skype (please check our online therapy article). Most people will have between 6 and 20 sessions of therapy, dependent upon the types of problems they are having.

One of the first things that your therapist will do is find out what you would like to achieve from therapy. Together you will set some realistic goals. Your progress will be measured during therapy, using questionnaires, so that you and your therapist can see whether the techniques you have learnt are helping or not.

Once you have decided on your goals, you will work with your therapist to identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. Your therapist will then work with you to help develop practical ways of changing these unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. For example, you may have been thinking that a friend doesn’t like you anymore because they haven’t been returning your calls. Your therapist may help you to consider alternative ways of thinking about the situation, such as that your friend may be very busy at the moment and simply hasn’t had the time to call you.

It is important that you put all of the skills that you have learnt into practice in the real world. Your therapist will therefore set homework for you to complete in between sessions, such as keeping a diary of your thoughts and feelings. You will then discuss your homework with your therapist and talk about any difficulties that you have come across.

Does CBT work?

CBT is a flexible talking therapy with a very strong-evidence base. It is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (https://www.nice.org.uk/) for a range of different mental health issues.

CBT is particularly helpful for the treatment of depression and anxiety (http://link.springer.com.eresources.shef.ac.uk/article/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16199119). In addition, there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that CBT is helpful for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, anger, chronic pain, bipolar disorder, bulimia nervosa, insomnia, schizophrenia (http://link.springer.com.eresources.shef.ac.uk/article/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16199119) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181959/).

Some people find that CBT alone can help improve how they feel. Others find that CBT is more helpful when taking medication at the same time.

When is CBT not appropriate?

Although many people find CBT helpful for a range of different issues, it is not the best option for everybody.

If you have severe or complex mental health issues then you might find that CBT is too short-term to help you.

If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings or emotions then you may find CBT upsetting and difficult to engage with. However, your therapist will work hard to provide a safe and trusting environment to help you feel more comfortable in opening up about your feelings.

Homework is a crucial component of CBT. If you are not happy to work outside of sessions, or don’t feel that you have the time to do homework, then CBT may not be for you. However, don’t be daunted by the prospect of homework. You will not be asked to do anything that you may find too difficult.

If you’re interested in finding out more about CBT, and whether it is right for you, then please get in touch by completing a referral form on our contact page.

Connor Heapy
Writer for Cognitive Practice
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