Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT for short, is a talking therapy developed by Aaron T. Beck in the 1950s. The basis of this approach is the idea that our thoughts, feelings, sensations in the body and behaviours (the actions we take) are all connected. This is important, especially when we start to experience difficulties with our thoughts and feelings like in depression and anxiety.

When we experience difficult events, stressors and pressures in our life, unhelpful thoughts can start to form the basis of much of our thinking. Examples of unhelpful thoughts could be ‘I’m a terrible person’, ‘I can’t get anything right’, ‘I can’t do anything for myself’.

These thoughts then impact our emotions and feelings: we might notice feeling low in mood or more worried about things.

These emotions then have physiological consequences in the body: for example feeling tired or slowed down, restless or on edge, feeling hot and sweaty, rapid breathing or breathlessness, frequent headaches, tension in the body, and difficulties sleeping and eating.

This can then impact on our actions and behaviours, so we might stay home more often or avoid other people because we’re feeling so awful.

These behaviours then serve to reinforce (or prove right) our initial unhelpful thoughts which keeps them going. The more unhelpful thoughts we have, the worse we can feel and the more we might avoid people and the things that are difficult for us. This means that we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle that is often difficult to find a way out of.

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Helpfully, this model shows us that changes in one area can influence changes in another area. For example, if we get better at challenging some of the unhelpful thoughts we have had and change our perspective, we might have more positive emotions and feel more relaxed. Similarly, we could change how we respond to these experiences (our actions) which might then change the nature of the thoughts we were having.

How can CBT help?

CBT can help by giving you time and space to talk through the things that are bothering you and understand them in terms of your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviours. Once you have this understanding, you can then talk through with your therapist the different areas in which you can make changes to break the vicious cycle and learn useful skills that you can apply to everyday life. This might involve learning to recognise and manage unhelpful thoughts, taking on small challenges and testing out some of the predictions you may have (that are stopping you from doing things that you’d like to do), developing skills in managing your emotions and learning how to take better care of yourself.

Other therapeutic approaches

Person-centred counselling Supporting you on your own journey to self-healing
Compassion focused therapy Fostering compassion for self and others to promote health and wellbeing
EMDR Therapy Helping people overcome experiences of past trauma
Mindfulness Learn skills in focusing the mind for a calmer self