What is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?

What is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?

There is a common saying that goes: ‘Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, then you can achieve it’. This gives you a general idea of just how powerful our thoughts are in the grand scheme of things. Students of psychology realised this a long time ago and that is why there are so many different practices within that field that go towards mending and making the mind as healthy as it can be for the betterment of the client.

One of the most important and widely practiced forms of therapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). So, what is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

In a nutshell, CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of psychotherapeutic treatment that focuses fully on how your thoughts, attitude and beliefs affect your feelings and ultimately your behavior. The ultimate goal here is to teach you valuable coping skills that help you deal with a wide range of problems.

This entire field of psychotherapy is based on the idea that your thoughts or how you think (cognition), how you feel (your emotions) and how you act (your behavior) are all connected and tend to interact on a day to day basis. It shows that our feelings and behavior are determined by our thoughts.

It can, therefore, be deduced that negative thoughts can lead to distress which in turn leads to agitation or even depression. When we suffer from psychological distress, our view of the world becomes skewed towards the negative and thus we tend to interpret situations in a negative manner which eventually influences the actions we take; also typically negative.

At its core, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy seeks to help clients become aware of the various moments during which they make negative interpretations of whatever situation they may be in. It also seeks to help you identify the behavioural patterns that reinforce this kind of negative thinking. At the end of it all, this kind of therapy aims to help you modify these patterns for a better, more positive outcome.

With the help of a qualified counsellor, people undergoing CBT learn how to identify their negative patterns and nip them in the bud more often than not. With time, they learn how to interpret their situations and view their world in a more positive manner. This, in turn, helps them to cope well with whatever life might throw at them and allows them to be happier with their existence.

A brief history of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This form of therapy was invented by a psychiatrist named Aaron Beck back in the 1960s. It all came about as a result of an observation Beck made when he was doing psychoanalysis. During these studies, he realised that there was some kind of internal dialogue going on in the minds of his patients. It was as if these patients were holding a conversation with themselves. However, these patients would only report a small fraction of these conversations to the counsellor.

Beck also noticed that the patient’s mood and behavior often changed as a result of this internal dialogue. He hypothesised that a certain patient would, for example, be thinking: ‘I wonder why the counsellor hasn’t said much today? Maybe he is bored with me.’ This statement would then be quickly followed by additional thoughts and assumptions that went towards reaffirming the first assumption. In the process, the patient would quickly decide that their assumptions were right and the therapist was bored with them. As soon as they reached that conclusion, as erroneous as it may be, they would quickly start feeling a few things including:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Self-consciousness
  • Withdrawn and so on.

Once this happened, the patient’s behavior would immediately change. They would either become more hostile or they would become more withdrawn thus sabotaging the entire therapy session. All because a thought came into their mind.

This is when Beck realised that thoughts and feelings go hand in hand and are an integral part of psychotherapy.

Who can benefit from it?

Although we could all benefit from CBT as human beings who think and feel on a daily basis, there is a select group of psychotherapy patients who are best suited for this kind of treatment. These include clients who suffer from the following disorders:

  • Anxiety and panic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobias such as agoraphobia as well as social phobia
  • Depressive disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Bipolar disorder

It might also be highly beneficial for individuals who suffer from long-term medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis or fibromyalgia. CBT may help these individuals learn how to cope with their debilitating conditions without necessarily falling into depression or getting overly frustrated.

How does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy work?

The general idea here is to teach you to change your unwanted behavior by first changing your thoughts. Basically, your counsellor will help you see the kind of thought patterns that lead to negative behavior. Once you have identified these patterns they will help you find new ways to change your thoughts so as to achieve more positive outcomes.

Unlike most psychotherapeutic techniques that delve into someones past so as to provide meaning to their feelings and behavior, CBT deal with what is here and now. It deals with your current thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Your counsellor encourages you to practice specific skills and behavioural patterns that will eventually modify your beliefs, thinking patterns and allow you to learn how to achieve your desired end results.

  • This process involves:
  • The identification of problem areas for the client
  • Learning how to distinguish between rational and irrational conclusions
  • Learning how to stop negative thoughts and challenge underlying assumptions that lead to these thoughts
  • Learning how to look at situations from a different perspective
  • Learning how to focus on how things are as opposed to how they should be ideally

With the help of a qualified psychotherapist who specializes in CBT, any patient can learn how to modify their thoughts so that they can eventually modify their behavior for the better.

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