We all have our ways. Our routines, perceptions, values and beliefs. Each person develops their view point over the years, led by what we've seen in people, what we know about ourselves, what we've learned about the world around us. But whatever it is we go by, we may find ourselves one day feeling stuck, struggling with feeling quite low or anxious, panicky or prone to anger, and not really sure why, how we got there, and maybe most importantly - where to go from there?
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
A bit of background - Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders (e.g. OCD, Post-traumatic Stress disorder, Social anxiety and many more), Perfectionism, Low self-esteem, eating disorders, and more. It is one of the most well recommended treatments in the world, as a consequence of the numerous research studies that found CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. The efficacy and usefulness of CBT is not coincidental, as it was developed over the last decades through a rigorous process of modern research and clinical practice implementation, leading to further research and so on.
A key point of CBT is that it is 'change-focused', aiming to make a real impact in people’s lives; in other words, it is a very practical, pragmatic approach that aims to recognise and tackle current difficulties, although taking into account relevant past experiences. In this manner, CBT differs from many other forms of psychological treatments.
But how does it help with doing things differently?
When we’re feeling upset, nervous or low, we can often fall into patterns of thinking and responding which can actually make us feel worse; CBT works to help us learn to recognise our individual problematic thinking styles or behaviour patterns, and to mindfully change them to help us feel better. This way, the next time we find ourselves struggling we already know why it happened, we can consider our alternatives rather than just acting upon our existing routines and impulses that led us to this situation in the first place; we can decide how to proceed, pathing the road we want to take for ourselves, with a certain conviction that we know what to do to get to where we want to be.
CBT is based on several core principles, mainly that thoughts, feelings, what we do, and how our bodies feel, are all connected. If we change one of these we can alter all the others. Also, we could say that:
Psychological problems are based, in part, on negative or unhelpful ways of thinking.
Psychological problems are based, in part, on patterns of unhelpful behaviours.
People can learn and adopt better ways of coping with difficulties, thereby relieving their distress and finding ways forward that work for them.
Importantly, CBT is a collaborative therapy - it’s not something that is done to someone, or by someone. It is a way of working together on mutually agreed goals, at a pace that feels comfortable to the patient, using interventions and techniques that are introduced by the therapist and practised in sessions and between appointments.
One final word about what to expect - If you've ever been to treatment, you probably know by now there are no magic tricks. Treatment is highly effective - but it requires hard work and commitment. If you take it seriously and commit yourself to achieving your goals in treatment - you're already half way there.