What is CBT?
In my last blog post I talked briefly about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (commonly known as CBT) and so I thought it would be worthwhile to look at it in more detail. There are different types of counselling, such as psychodynamic and person-centred, which focus on a person’s past, but CBT is a talking therapy that instead helps a person to manage the problems they have by changing the way they think and behave.
CBT is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but it can be used to help with other mental and physical health problems as well. The therapy can help with mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, phobias, eating disorders, and schizophrenia, among others. In terms of physical health conditions, people who have long-term health conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can benefit by having CBT as it can help them to cope better with the symptoms.
A course of CBT usually lasts between five and twenty sessions, with these lasting between thirty and sixty minutes, and them occurring once a week or once every two weeks. CBT works on the premise that a person’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all interconnected, and negative thoughts and feelings can trap us in a vicious cycle. The aim of CBT is to therefore help a person deal with their problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts and then teach them how to change the negative patterns to then improve how that person then feels. The therapy looks for practical ways to improve a person’s state of mind on a daily basis.
CBT sessions are collaborative in nature in the sense that a therapist works with their client to break down their problems into separate parts, such as the person’s thoughts, actions, and physical feelings. These can then be analysed by both parties to determine what effect they have on each other as well as on the client. The therapist can then help the client to work out how to change their unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
With CBT there is a bit of homework the client needs to take part in; once the changes have been realised, the therapist would then ask the client to practice them in their everyday life, and the results can then be discussed at the next session. The skills that are learnt during the course of therapy should help a person manage their problems and stop them from having a negative impact on their life, even after the therapy has ended.
CBT can be very effective, but may not be successful or even suitable for every person. The extra homework can take up a lot of a person’s time, and co-operation is needed in the first place for the therapist to be able to work with the client. CBT also involves the client confronting their emotions and anxieties and can therefore make them experience initial phases of feeling anxious and emotionally uncomfortable. One of the main positives of it though is that it can be completed in a short period of time in comparison to other talking therapies. However, unlike these other talking therapies, CBT only deals with a person’s current problems rather than focusing on the issues from their past; it focuses on the person’s ability to change things within themselves, but it doesn’t address the wider problems that may be impacting on them.
In my opinion, it could be that a person can deal with how they are feeling in the present by using CBT, but depending on the cause of such feelings, there may be other things that need to be addressed. Other talking therapies can focus on the past and from there can work out why a person feels the way they do. I think CBT is revolutionary in how it works, but care must be taken to remember that it won’t work in every situation.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)
Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach
See also: Our Guide to Online CBT in the UK