Understanding your thoughts, behaviour and emotions with CBT
The following article provides a personal viewpoint, offers suggestions based on read research from third parties. It’s intention is to provide the reader with general information and insights that may enable them to explore and research further on the subject. I/Mindstein.io are not qualified medical or healthcare professionals. The information provided is not intended as medical or psychological advice in any way.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is one of many types of psychological treatments that fall under the general term of psychotherapy. Although, unlike other forms of psychotherapy, CBT actually has significant scientific research and studies supporting it’s benefits – two of which are the positive results when treating anxiety and depression.
Where does CBT originate?
CBT combines the advances made from one branch of psychology dating back to the 1930-60’s, called Behaviourism, and cognitive psychology which came later in 1970-80’s. Due to scientist realising that these two areas focused on thoughts, behaviours and emotions, they were eventually combined to bring CBT to the world.
CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts lead to how we feel, and how we act, and that external influences such as people, situations and events play a lesser role. Resulting in CBT’s focus being to make us feel better by changing how we think and behave.
CBT is not just ‘talk therapy’. It aims to teach people suffering from emotional disorders, different ways of thinking, and behavioural issues to reduce their suffering. And with an abundance of scientific studies behind it, it has been proven to benefit the majority of people.
The key principles of CBT
The CBT psychologist aims to establish a collaborative relationship with the client, helping them to understand their problem through questioning, investigating beliefs and guided discovery. This is always done with empathy, warmth, understanding and above all else, genuineness. The psychologist will regularly ask for thoughts and opinions of their client, and in turn, the client is encouraged to ask questions, and to learn and practice new ways of thinking and behaving.
Tailored to the individual
CBT does not aim to tell the person how they should think or feel because each of us is an individual with a unique personality and set of experiences. In fact, the client is the best judge of how they feel in the moment and how they would like to feel. CBT aims to tailor therapy to each person’s goals and to help them find the best ways to feel better.
Focusing on the ‘Here and Now’
CBT aims to target the main symptoms and problems that cause emotional distress, helping to alleviate the person’s suffering. This is achieved through working on a ‘here and now’ principle. By teaching specific techniques and concepts, followed by a reduction in symptoms, it is only then that deeper and underlying issues and beliefs can be discussed.
Acceptance of the person
Because we’re all unique, the CBT psychologist will ask many questions to understand the problem, that in turn will help the client understand themselves and discover things they may not have been aware of. And because we’re all distinct and rational in our own ways, CBT does not aim to tell people that their beliefs are wrong. Far from it. A very logical approach is taken in which the evidence is gathered and discussed, helping the client to look at their thoughts and beliefs and encourage change. For example, if someone believes that everyone is laughing at them, a CBT approach accepts that this maybe true. Evidence is then gathered (eg. “Are there times when no one is laughing at you?”), and then the belief can be re-evaluated by the client.
Structure and education
At the beginning of each session, an agenda is set in order to structure what is to be accomplished and discussed. Agenda items can include psycho education, teaching of specific skills or techniques, a review of recent problems, or a review of any homework previously given. It is important that both the psychologist and client set the agenda collaboratively in order for the session to be meaningful and beneficial.
Teaching of skills and techniques
In CBT, skills and techniques that science has shown to be effective in relieving the symptoms of the target problem are taught to the individual. These focus on changing ways of thinking, as well as how to engage in behaviours that will help change how the person feels.
Brief and time-limited
Research has shown that symptom relief can be accomplished after 10-16 sessions (one a week). Although CBT aims to relieve suffering in the shortest time possible, it can last longer than this depending on the problem. In contrast, other types of psychotherapy, such as psychoanalysis, can last years with no end in sight.
Both the psychologist and client can collaboratively discuss the number of sessions that are required based on how the person is progressing. They can even decide to decrease the frequency of sessions from weekly to bi-monthly or even monthly. So, unlike other forms of psychotherapy, CBT aims to have a beginning and an end.
Importance of homework
It is unlikely that just meeting for just one-hour session a week will lead to any significant change. The real work occurs outside regular therapy sessions when what you have been taught can be tested and practiced in the real world.
Your CBT psychologist should be suggesting regular homework exercises in order for you to practice what you have been learning during therapy. These exercises should be reviewed during the next therapy session in order for you to receive and give some feedback. Homework is essential in CBT. Research studies show that people who consistently engage in homework exercises achieve quicker and more long-lasting changes than those who do not.
Becoming your own psychologist
If your psychologist has done a good job, you should eventually become your own psychologist! This means that you can identify and apply what you have learned if ever any new problems develop in the future. If needed, you can always schedule ‘booster sessions’ whenever necessary in order to review any issues or to get further help.