What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – And Can it Help Me?

By: Sabrina Peters

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely practiced and evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Developed in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron Beck, CBT is grounded in the idea that our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us can significantly influence our feelings and actions.

Imagine your mind as a garden, filled with various thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sometimes, weeds of negative thinking can overtake this garden, leading to distress and dysfunction. CBT is like the gardener who helps you identify and uproot those weeds, allowing beautiful, healthy thoughts and behaviors to flourish.

At its core, CBT operates on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected. It recognises that the way we perceive situations influences how we feel and behave.

By changing our thoughts and behaviours, we can ultimately change how we feel.

So, How Does it Work?

In a psychological setting, a therapist works collaboratively with their clients to identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to their distress. Together, they examine the evidence supporting these thoughts and challenge their validity. This process helps clients develop more realistic and balanced perspectives.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Triangle diagram

For example, let’s say a client struggles with social anxiety and believes, “I’m always awkward in social situations, and people don’t like me.” Through CBT, they might explore specific instances where this belief is challenged, such as times when they engaged in enjoyable conversations or received positive feedback from others. By collecting evidence to the contrary, the client can begin to develop a more accurate and positive self-image.

Additionally, CBT involves teaching practical skills and techniques to manage difficult emotions and behaviors. This may include relaxation exercises, problem-solving strategies, or exposure therapy to gradually confront fears in a controlled environment.

The beauty of CBT lies in its adaptability and effectiveness across various mental health conditions. Whether someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or even substance abuse, CBT offers a structured and evidence-based approach to facilitate meaningful change.

Common Principles of CBT

Some common principles of CBT include:

Cognitive Restructuring – This involves identifying and challenging negative or irrational thoughts and beliefs that contribute to distressing emotions and behaviours. By examining evidence for and against these thoughts, individuals can develop more balanced and realistic perspectives.

Behavioural Activation – CBT encourages individuals to engage in activities that bring them pleasure or a sense of accomplishment, even when they may not feel motivated to do so. By increasing activity levels and setting achievable goals, individuals can counteract symptoms of depression and improve their mood.

Exposure Therapy- For individuals struggling with anxiety disorders or phobias, CBT often incorporates exposure techniques. Through gradual exposure to feared situations or stimuli, individuals learn to confront and tolerate their fears, leading to decreased anxiety over time.

Skills Training – CBT equips individuals with practical skills and coping strategies to manage stress, regulate emotions, and solve problems effectively. These skills may include relaxation techniques, assertiveness training, communication skills, and problem-solving skills.

Becoming Your Own Therapist

But perhaps the most empowering aspect of CBT is its focus on empowering individuals to become their own therapists.

By equipping clients with tools and strategies to navigate life’s challenges, they gain a sense of mastery and resilience that extends far beyond the therapy room.

Of course, like any therapeutic approach, CBT isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires commitment, effort, and willingness to confront discomfort. But for those who are ready to embark on the journey of self-discovery and growth, CBT can be a beacon of hope in navigating the complexities of the human mind.

In my short time of working as a mental health professional, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing countless transformations as clients gain insight, build resilience, and reclaim control over their lives. It’s a humbling reminder of the profound impact that therapy can have and the resilience of the human spirit.

In the end, CBT isn’t just about addressing symptoms; it’s about empowering individuals to rewrite their stories, cultivate self-compassion, and embrace the fullness of their potential.

About the Author: Sabrina is a writer, pastor and relationships blogger. She is passionate about Jesus and changing the way people think about God, relationships and sex.

Article supplied with thanks to Sabrina Peters.

Feature image: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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