Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sometimes referred to simply as CBT, is one of many types of psychotherapy treatments that help individuals explore and take control over the interconnections between their thoughts, emotions and behaviour. It is structured as an intensive, short-term, problem solving therapeutic treatment with practical solutions for managing common mental health disorders. Rigorous scientific studies have demonstrated CBT to be highly effective on individuals suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, phobias, etc. Those willing to actively participate in their treatment plan derive long-term benefits from it.
What’s Does Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Involve?
During CBT sessions, you work with a trained therapist to examine and dissect your negative thoughts by helping you step away from them to gain perspective and identify distortions in your thinking. This will give you pause to trace the ensuing emotions, along with your typical reaction to them. Your therapist will help you structure all of this with tools, like a thought diary, to track your moods. Their coaching will allow you to practically visualize the dynamic between your thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
In between therapy sessions, you will put into practice the cognitive exercises you learn at the sessions. Cognitive Behaviour Therapists work with a specific goal. They want you to learn the skills to self-regulate, manage and alter your cycle of self-defeating and destructive behaviour.
CBT is proven to help individuals foster positive relationships, connections and outcomes in daily life. This is because they actively block negative psychological pathways from tripping them up.
Practical Applications of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Anyone who has experienced anxiety that escalated into a panic attack will understand how traumatic this is. Those suffering from social anxiety disorder report similar terror. A psychotherapist can help you understand where your anxiety originated from and what triggers it. This knowledge will validate and help you recognize your illness better. However, it will not improve or reduce your panic attacks. That is where CBT comes in. It breaks past the underlying causes and takes direct aim at the here and now, the actual events that drive your anxiety.
A trained Cognitive Behavioural Therapist will identify the underlying core beliefs that cause your emotional distress. He or she will challenge you to think about yourself in relation to other people and the society you live within. You will drill into the interconnections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour and challenge your thought patterns. Your therapist will help you find alternatives to bypass the negative pathways that trigger your anxiety. Consequently, this will successfully prevent the cascading sequence of events that lead to alarming panic attacks and terrifying flashbacks.
Similarly, if you suffer from depression, you may wake up with a heavy spirit, convinced that your day will be a bad one, like all the others. These neural pathways introduce the thought, “What’s the point?” into the lexicon of depressed individuals. Subsequently, the thoughts lead to sad emotions that trigger behaviour like difficulty getting out of bed. Within extreme depths of depression, this same thought can generate destructive feelings of heightened helplessness and possibly even suicidal behaviour. It is a vicious cycle. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy injects vital intervention right at the beginning, at the thought phase, to break the ensuing pessimistic chain reaction.
Selecting the Right Therapist
Typically, trained and regulated mental health professionals like psychologists or registered social workers, provide CBT treatments. The most important factor that drives successful treatments is your relationship with your therapist. It requires the utmost trust and rapport. Consequently, you should interview several candidates to ensure they are well versed with CBT and have worked with other clients in similar situations as yourself. Your therapeutic relationship must be compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental. Select a therapist you feel most comfortable with.
As with all therapies, every individual requires a custom-made treatment plan. Your first session will, therefore, begin with an assessment to help the therapist understand your daily routine. He/she will also delve into how your illness or disorder manifests itself. This will help your therapist identify the cycle of unhelpful triggering thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Common traps that snare most people emotionally include discounting the positives and over-focusing on the negatives, catastrophizing problems or setting unbelievably high standards for themselves that invariably lead to disappointment and ensuing negative thoughts.
Interventions To Support Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Many therapists introduce interventions that support CBT treatments. These include fresh daily routines to improve your overall health, such as sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, physical fitness and adequate socialization. They may also prescribe self-care and engaging in enjoyable leisure activities.
Your treatment plan will require you to dedicate time for maintaining thought records in writing and practicing positive self-talk because they assist with re-framing unfavourable thoughts. Therapists often develop new strategies as ‘experiments’ to test what improves your mood.
Sometimes, a life situation may not permit you to completely avoid circumstances which trigger negative episodes. Examples include a workplace that requires you to work alongside colleagues who influence you negatively. In this event, your therapist will arm you with coping mechanisms that gradually allow you to manage incidents so neutral or positive experiences replace the previous negative ones.
Surprisingly, a lot of people underestimate the benefits of deep breathing to help induce relaxation and distraction from stress. Your therapist will introduce this as an active part of your action plan, along with mindfulness, compassion and grounding, specifically to help you manage intense emotions that are difficult to address with a cognitive approach, alone.
When CBT Is Not Right For You
While CBT helps those who want to take an active role in their mental health care, therapists will typically not prescribe it for individuals who require long-term supportive counselling or wish to focus exclusively on past issues. It is also not utilized for relationship counselling which requires family history considerations or attachment-based therapy treatments for better efficacy.
Rebecca Loucks MSW, RSW is a Registered Social Worker and co-owner at Beaches Therapy Group serving clients for over 10 years. We have helped hundreds of individuals manage their mental health disorders with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Contact us for a free initial assessment to determine whether this is the right treatment for you. Let’s have a discussion about how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.