CBT is an evidence-based talking therapy therapy that can help with a wide range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, procrastination, stress and anger management
In many ways going to see a CBT therapist is as much like going to a yoga teacher or language teacher as it is going to see a traditional counsellor. The emphasis is on understanding your issues in a new way and then teaching you skills to help you manage it, given this new understanding.
Does that make sense? This short video produced by the charity MIND explains CBT particularly well.
CBT is usually short-term. Some anxiety disorders can be treated very quickly -for example panic attacks and phobias can very often be treated in 3 or 4 sessions. Other problems take longer . It's part of the CBT process to regularly review how treatment is going and to reflect on how to make it more effective or suggest alternatives if necessary.
CBT focuses mainly on the here and now. If there was a fire you wouldn't want to spend a long time searching for the match that started it. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress you need to work on alleviating it. So the focus is usually on what's keeping it going now and on changing that. Sometimes it is important to talk about the past, and in these cases CBT will delve into the past. but only as much as is necessary.
CBT is very practical. Your therapist will help you find practical ways to alleviate your distress,rather than just providing a listening ear.
CBT also involves exercises to be done between sessions - just like yoga and learning a language would. This is often called "homework". I prefer to avoid this term as whenever anyone asked me to do homework, I left it to the last minute possible. The point of CBT home practice is to check in and learn something new or try something new every day.
CBT is structured. Sessions usually follow a set structure - quick check-in, setting agenda for today, review of home practice, 1 or 2 main items for today, then setting home practice for next time and summary of main points from session. Don't worry, it's not your job as client to set this structure. Like a good talk show host, like Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton (or Michael Parkinson, if I dare show my age), your CBT therapist will be in charge of the process, so you can focus on your issues.
CBT involves teamwork. You know about yourself, your goals and your problems. Your CBT therapist knows about your condition and about proven ways to help.
Does all that make sense? Here is David Clark, a leading CBT researcher, with his explanation of what CBT is all about.
This is the first in a series of articles about CBT.
Other articles are planned to cover questions such as
- does how you think affect how you feel?
- does what you do affect how you feel?
- is CBT all about techniques? (the answer is no, it's about understanding your problem then learning and applying techniques)
- what problems can CBT help with?
- what can't CBT help so much with, and what other treatments are likely to help?
- can CBT help me or someone I care about?