There is considerable evidence that CBT can be helpful for many common mental health problems.
For me, this is a big deal.
If I have a bad back, I would want to choose a type of treatment that had a good track record for helping with bad backs.
If I was trying to learn a language, I would prefer to choose a method of learning that had helped many students learn in a relatively short-space of time.
If I had problems with worry, low mood, anxiety or stress I would like to know that the tools I would be given had worked with others with similar issues.
One key advantage of CBT is that it explicitly draws on a good deal of psychological research about what maintains these common mental health problems. Researchers have discovered the key processes that keep depression, worry, panic, phobias and other problems going, This means that if you go to see a CBT therapist wanting help with, for example, depression they will have in their minds a map of the territory of depression.
This is very helpful. If I was a tourist new to London trying to get from Liverpool Street to Buckingham Palace, I would prefer to have as my guide someone who had a map and who had accompanied people on that journey before. A guide without a map might get us to the Palace eventually, but then again we might end up in the suburbs and never reach our intended destination.
In the same way, a CBT therapist knows the territory of common mental health problems and so is more likely to be a reliable guide than someone who does not,
Researchers have also designed treatment packages which are most likely to work efficiently, given their understanding of the problem.
Your experienced and reliable guide will have a map of ways to get from Liverpool Street to Buckingham Palace. Like google maps or a good Satnav they will also understand whether tube, bus or taxi or foot or some combination - is most efficient. A good CBT therapist will understand, for example, that at the beginning of threapy behavioural techniques are more likely to be effective for low mood, whilst a cognitive intervention will be vital in the early stages of therapy to help someone panic disorder.
Researchers have tested out treatment packages for each common mental health problem mentioned above. CBT therapists learn in their training which packages are most impactful for which disorder and how to implement these treatments.
CBT is also committed to continuously refining and improving these packages - a bit like getting a software upgrade to your Satnav.
It is these two elements - a map of common mental health problems and associated, tested and effective treatment packages - that in my view make CBT such a good approach if you do have a common mental health problem
Of course there is a lot more that could be said. We are all different, and the map of your depression may not exactly fit the most common pattern for depression. A good CBT therapist will be informed by the map of the territory but will not be constrained by it. They will tailor the treatment to your problem,
Equally, not everyone who could benefit from CBT has a common mental health problem. But if you do have one of these problems - depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (worry), OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, health anxiety, phobias - then CBT is likely to be particularly effective.
My experience as a therapist though suggests that the reverse is more often true. Many people are suffering from a mental health problem but are not aware of it. If you are reading this and suspect you may be suffering from one there is a strong case for seeing an experienced CBT therapist to see if they can help.
In the next article in this series we will look at each of these problems mentioned - what they are and how you find out more about them.