What is CBT?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.
CBT cannot remove your problems, but it can help you deal with them in a more positive way. It is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.
CBT aims to help you understand and alter this cycle by breaking down overwhelming problems into smaller parts and showing you how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.
Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.
When is CBT helpful?
CBT has been shown to be an effective way of treating a number of different mental health conditions.
In addition to depression or anxiety disorders, there is also good evidence that CBT is helpful in treating many other conditions, including:
• chronic fatigue
• anxiety disorders
• chronic pain
• physical symptoms without a medical diagnosis
• sleep difficulties
• anger management
CBT is sometimes used to treat people with long-term health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CBT cannot cure the physical symptoms of these health conditions, but it can help people cope better with their symptoms.
What happens during CBT sessions?
You will usually have a session once a week for between five and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 50 minutes.
During the sessions, you will work with your counsellor to break down your problems into their separate parts – such as your thoughts, physical sensations, feelings and actions.
You and your therapist will analyse these areas to work out if they are unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you. You and your counsellor will then be able to work with you to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. After working out what you can change, your counsellor will ask you to practise these changes in your daily life and you will discuss how you got on during the next session.
The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life. This should help you manage your problems and stop them having such a negative impact on your life – even after your counselling finishes.
However, to benefit from CBT, you need to commit yourself to the process. A counsellor can help and guide you, but they cannot bring about the changes you wish to make or change the problems you may be facing.