What is CBT?

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; the therapy focuses on the way people Think (Cognitive) and Act (Behavioural). The concept behind CBT is that our thoughts or the meanings we give situations affect how we feel (emotionally and physically) and how we behave in the situation. However, our experiences, including our early learning experiences and any other significant life events, shape our thoughts and we often don’t realise that two people can give two very different meanings to the same event, resulting in differing feelings and behaviours. Consequently. the ‘meanings’ that we assign to the situation and not the ‘situation’ itself determines how we feel and act. In addition, sometimes such thoughts and assigned meanings are not always accurate, realistic, or helpful and they can lead to unpleasant emotions and unhelpful behaviours (i.e. avoidance behaviours) that serve to reinforce the negative thoughts because they are not challenged for evidence or updated. A vicious cycle is created which maintains the problem.

Although we all have negative thoughts every now and then, if we consistently apply negative meanings to events and situations, then we are likely to experience problems with anxiety and/or depression.

CBT is an evidence-based psychological treatment proven to be effective and recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression. Nice guidelines is part of the NHS and is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on treatments and care and it is recognised as being a world leader in setting standards for high quality.

There are a few principles that are important to understand when using CBT.

1. CBT focuses on the here and now.

An important principle of CBT is that treatment involves dealing with the symptoms that you are struggling with right now, rather than focusing on the cause of your problem. Although it can be interesting to understand how your anxiety or depression developed, just knowing why you have these problems is often not enough to help you manage your anxiety and mood.

2. CBT emphasizes the importance of homework

Homework is a key component. Doing homework for CBT basically means that from week to week, you will need to practise the new skills that you are learning and apply them to your daily life. The good news is that the more you use your CBT skills, the easier it gets, and the better you will become at managing your anxiety and/or depression.

What to Expect if You See a CBT Therapist

1. CBT is structured and educational:

Treatment sessions in CBT involve learning new ways to think about and understand your symptoms. Because of this, sessions are structured so that you are usually reviewing the homework you did, learning new information and skills, and then developing a new homework assignment for the next session.

2. CBT is collaborative:

Because you are learning new skills in CBT, therapy is very active. Both you and your therapist will be working on helping you to understand your symptoms and ways to manage them. You can expect to participate both in and out of session in order to see positive changes.

KEEP IN MIND: When it comes to CBT, you get out of it what you put in, your best efforts are important.