Zero in on a pattern of behavior you don’t like, and for sure you’ll find an unhelpful thought or feeling.
Anxiety when your boss passes your desk, for example, may be prefaced by the thought that you’ve done something wrong. Your tendency to rescue your alcoholic brother may be preceded by feelings of guilt, even though you’ve realised he’s ultimately responsible for his life.
If you feel that unhelpful thoughts and feelings are the culprit behind your problems, then Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is for you.
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy or CBT is a form of psychotherapy that makes you look at how negative, unrealistic, inaccurate, and even irrational beliefs influence your behaviour. And while feelings are neither right nor wrong, CBT believes improving connections between feelings and thoughts/actions is therapeutic. If you’re familiar with pop psychology’s “thoughts are things” and “you attract happiness with positivity,” then consider CBT as its scientific counterpart.
CBT isn’t concerned with past or future. Instead, it’s interested in the “here and now.” For Albert Ellis, one of the fathers of this approach (he developed the precursor to CBT, Rational Emotive Therapy, in the 1950s), it’s not important how dysfunctional patterns start. You can make positive changes to your life without looking back.
How does it work?
The heart of CBT is functional analysis: the identification of links between thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Each element is explored and even challenged. It’s not unusual for CBT practitioners, for example, to ask for the evidence for beliefs. If a depressed person says “life is meaningless,” expect a CBT practitioner to not sit back and accept that statement as fact.
Once dysfunctional patterns have been identified, therapists assist clients in creating more functional ones. In the case of the depressed person mentioned above, a CBT practitioner can help them see how a bad day doesn’t mean a bad life. If this re-conceptualisation is difficult, therapists can function as mentors, teaching clients new skills. Consistent follow-up helps ensure that new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting get reinforced regularly.
CBT is probably the model of psychotherapy most supported by research. It’s a structured approach; that is, therapists have specific model to use even when handling different cases. The CBT method can be accomplished with just a small number of sessions; hence, it’s more accessible for those without the resources to invest in long-term therapy.
What issues does it treat?
CBT is effective for mood disorders such as depression and Bipolar Disorder, as these conditions are often maintained by irrational thinking. Anger management issues also have good prognosis with CBT; CBT can identify triggers and symptoms of anger. Persons suffering from addictions, particularly those needing help in relapse prevention, have also benefitted from CBT. Persons with anxiety and phobias have also responded favourably.
Given how CBT concepts are universally applicable, everyone can benefit from this therapy — even non-clinical populations. CBT, for example, can improve relationship problems, as it’s not unusual for conflicts to fester because of unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and actions. This approach has been used in personal and executive coaching to help clients better pursue goals.
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