CBT - What To Expect
Cognitive behavioural therapy can be provided on a one-to-one basis, or as part of group therapy. Whichever format you choose, the relationship you have with your therapist should be a collaborative one. This means that you will take an active involvement
in the therapy and have a voice when it comes to future progression. The issues you discuss with your therapist will be in confidence and without judgement to help you gain a new perspective.
The course of CBT can be anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on your individual circumstance. Usually you will attend one session a week, with each session lasting between 50 minutes to an hour. At the start of your therapy, you will meet your therapist and discuss why you are seeking treatment. Here you will have the opportunity to talk with the therapist. You will be able to outline what you hope to gain from CBT and set goals for the future.
Together with your therapist you will work on the content and structure of your sessions. Your therapist may also set you certain tasks to do after the sessions, at home. As your therapy progresses, you will take a more prominent role in the sessions. You will start to decide on the content and structure of the session, without the help of your therapist. The idea is that once your treatment is over, you should feel confident and comfortable enough to continue the work on your own.
Cognitive behavioural therapy looks to help you make sense of what can feel like an overwhelming problem by breaking it down into more manageable parts. These smaller parts are your thoughts, feelings, actions and even physical sensations. These elements are interconnected and can often trap you in a negative spiral. For example, if your marriage or relationship has come to an end, you may think you have failed and that you are not capable of being in a functional relationship. These thoughts can result in you feeling lonely and lacking energy. When you feel like this, you are unlikely to want to socialise or go out and meet new people. This negative spiral can then trap you into feeling isolated and unhappy.
Rather than accepting the negative thought patterns, CBT aims to show you other ways of reacting so you can break out of negative cycles. Instead of thinking that you are a failure when a relationship ends, you can choose to learn from your mistakes and move on, feeling optimistic about the future. This new way of thinking may result in you feeling more energised and confident, helping you meet new people and one day, start a new relationship.
While this is a simplified example, it does illustrate how easy it is to get trapped in negative cycles and how changing the way you think and behave can affect you in a significant way. In CBT, you will learn to recognise your thoughts, behaviours and feelings while learning other, potentially more helpful ways of thinking and behaving.
As well as identifying negative thought patterns, cognitive behavioural therapy can teach you the skills you need to help you deal with different problems. The hope is that once you are equipped with these coping skills, you will be able to turn to them in the future.
For example, if you have a phobia or suffer from anxiety, you may discover through therapy that avoiding certain situations can actually increase your fears. Confronting the fears in a gradual and manageable way can help you gain faith in your ability to cope. Perhaps you suffer from depression, your therapist may ask you to note down your thoughts so you can explore them in a more realistic way. This can help you gain perspective and start to break the negative cycle.
Just like all psychological therapies, CBT may not be a suitable treatment for everyone. Speaking to a professional, such as a counsellor or doctor, will help you decide which therapy type is right for you and which approach to consider.
Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be as effective as medication in treating many mental health conditions, including depression. CBT is highly structured and can be provided in a variety of formats. This may include group therapy or self-help, but you need to fully commit to the process in order to benefit from the therapy - including the homework tasks.
While CBT is solution-focused, it is thought to be more beneficial to those with specific concerns, rather than more complex mental health issues. However, the skills you learn in CBT can be incorporated into everyday life. They can help you cope and manage situations after treatment has finished.