Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a common treatment used by psychologists, counsellors, and other mental health professionals. It’s a structured intervention that focuses on exploring the relationships and patterns between a person’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviours. These components are all interconnected with the view that negative thoughts are a core driving force for a cycle of distressing feelings and unhelpful or damaging behaviours.
CBT aims to help individuals identify their pattern of unhealthy thoughts that may be causing excessively negative emotions and self-destructive behaviours. It can then teach the skills necessary to challenge these thoughts and the practical skills required to modify these maladaptive behaviours. The resulting positive feelings not only contribute to a better quality of life but in turn lead to more positive thoughts and behaviours.
C for Cognitions
Also known as our thoughts. CBT taps into a level of automatic thinking that happens just outside our consciousness and ties into how we feel moment-to-moment. With the right skills and practice, people can become aware of negative thoughts at this level and how they fit into their cycle of problematic feelings and behaviours. Once you can identify the cognitions, you can learn to question how helpful and realistic they are and replace them with more positive, healthy thoughts.
B for Behaviours
Behaviour can be about both what we do and don’t do. Some people manage the painful emotions caused by negative thinking patterns through unhelpful behaviours like taking drugs or alcohol while others cope by utilising avoidance tactics (the ‘don’t do’ part). Most people have both types of behaviour in their arsenal. Such behaviours can feel good or like we have control in the short-term but ultimately only serve to reinforce the negative thoughts and feelings without solving the real problem. As with cognitions, once you’re aware of the maladaptive behaviours, you can learn to modify or replace them with more healthy ones. Further, CBT gives you the chance to challenge fears rather than avoid them and build confidence in your ability to cope.
T for Therapy
Through a strong, collaborative relationship, psychologists can help clients understand problems they may be experiencing and the vicious cycles of thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physiological reactions that maintain them. Psychologists appreciate how daunting and emotional it can be to identify and challenge long-standing habits, which is why mutual trust and respect is so important in the therapeutic relationship.
At a practical level, in sessions you can expect to:
- Set mutually agreed goals
- Check-in about how you’ve been going between sessions
- Discuss, assess, and challenge your thoughts and behaviours, often using worksheets or other therapeutic tools
- Learn and run through skills in a safe environment before practicing them in the real world as part of tasks between sessions
- Measure your progress with questionnaires
- Prepare to continue confidently implementing your new skills and strategies after therapy has finished
What Does it Treat?
CBT is used to treat a wide variety of psychological issues and is often undertaken in conjunction with medication or other forms of psychological therapy. Originally developed as a treatment for depression, the application of CBT has expanded into helping a wide range of problems, including anxiety disorders, substance and alcohol use, other addictions, anger, eating disorders, sleep disorders, and low self-esteem.
CBT is just one of the therapeutic interventions offered by PsychMed and other psychology clinics. Whilst often deemed the ‘go-to’ treatment, there are actually many other forms of psychotherapy that may also be suited to your goals, mindset, and presenting issues.