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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy treatment approach that helps you to recognise and understand negative or harmful thoughts and behavioural patterns. This type of therapy is used by counsellors and psychologists the world over, and is one of the most popular therapies available today. But can it help you? In this article, we discuss what you should know about CBT, how it works, and whether it might be able to help you.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and how does it work?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the core concept that your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are interconnected. CBT’s approach is based on the idea that the way you think can affect how you feel and act, and that those thoughts can create negative (or indeed positive) patterns. To break negative patterns of behaviour, CBT aims to address the ways you think and feel, to better understand how and why these patterns arise. Then, CBT techniques help to overcome negative patterns and replace them with more helpful ones.

The key concept behind CBT is that although negative patterns of thoughts and behaviours are strong, they can be changed.

According to the American Psychological Association, the core theories behind Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are that:

1.  Psychological issues are often based on unhelpful or harmful ways of thinking.

2.  Psychological issues are often partly based on learned patterns of behaviour.

3.  People living with mental health concerns and psychological issues can change these patterns, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and relieve their symptoms through changing their patterns of thoughts and behaviours.

How thought patterns influence behaviour

Thoughts and emotions have a big impact on our behaviour, according to the concepts behind CBT. These can present in both negative and positive ways. Here are some examples:

  • Negative or inaccurate thoughts or perceptions can create emotional distress and even develop into more serious mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, among others.
  • The negative patterns of thought we experience can lead us to develop harmful behaviours (such as coping mechanisms we adopt) that eventually become strong patterns of behaviour. For  example, having a drink at the end of the day to relieve stress can become a drinking problem, as the pattern of thoughts develop (“I am so stressed, a drink will help” becomes “I need to drink after work to relieve my stress” to “I cannot cope with my stress unless I drink”).
  • Addressing the thoughts and feelings behind these behaviours can help us to break those patterns and replace them with more helpful and positive ones.

How does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) differ from other therapies?

Unlike some other forms of therapy, CBT focuses on the here and now, and on practical strategies that can help to change negative thoughts and behavioural patterns. For many people, this is incredibly empowering and puts the power of change back into their own hands. Focusing less on the past than some other types of psychotherapy, CBT can help to relieve symptoms almost immediately and requires less potentially traumatic delving into the past.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches the negative behaviour (e.g. drinking to deal with stress), and delves into the thoughts and feelings that have created this behaviour. It then asks, how can we tackle these negative thoughts and replace these behaviours with something more positive and helpful?

Some of the most common techniques used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy include:  

  • SMART goals: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited.
  • Guided discovery and questioning: With the help of a qualified therapist, you question the assumptions or beliefs you have about yourself, your life, or a current situation and then challenge these thoughts and gain different perspectives.
  • Journaling: Your therapist might ask you to write down any negative thoughts or beliefs that arise during the week and think of some positive ones that you can replace them with.
  • Positive self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves has a lot to do with our thought patterns and behaviours. Replacing negative or overly-critical self-talk with more helpful, constructive, or compassionate self-talk is an effective way to break negative patterns.
  • Cognitive reprogramming: Reprogramming or restructuring our brains works by identifying the negative cognitive processes we have (such as negative self-talk, catastrophising, all-or-nothing thinking, black-and-white thinking, or jumping to conclusions) and unpicking them.  

Although CBT is considered to be the gold standard of therapeutic techniques by many industry professionals, it is by no means the only approach. Many psychologists and counsellors will use a combination of techniques, including CBT, to develop a treatment plan that is best suited to your individual needs and what you hope to achieve.

Who can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) help?

Cognitive behavioural therapy was developed to address harmful and unhelpful ways of thinking and uses cognitive restructuring to change dysfunctional patterns of thoughts and behaviours. Because it is based on how we think, and how these thoughts impact how we act, CBT can be helpful for almost anyone. It can help with a range of things, including these types of mental health concerns:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Low self-esteem or self-worth

The beauty of CBT is that it can also help with a range of issues that all of us may face, even if we don’t suffer from a specific mental health concern. CBT can be very effective in helping with:

  • Relationship troubles and break-ups
  • Serious health concerns
  • Chronic pain
  • Grief or loss
  • Insomnia and poor sleep hygiene
  • General stress

Can CBT help me?

CBT is one of the most-studied therapies used today and has a huge amount of research behind it. Not only is it suitable to treat a wide range of mental health concerns and general life issues, but it is also proven to be incredibly effective. Whether you suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or are simply struggling to overcome a hurdle such as loss, a relationship breakdown, or general life stress, CBT could be the key.

CBT therapy results are very quick – and you may begin to feel the difference almost immediately – but they are also proven to be long-lasting. If you’re struggling with something and wondering what type of therapy might help, you should consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Reach out to Integrated Health Specialists today to book your appointment and find out more. CBT is one of the therapies that we utilise in our holistic approach to well-being. 

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen