Many people struggle in their everyday lives due to patterns of unhelpful thinking. For some people, certain unhelpful thoughts can become habitual. These thoughts result in negative emotions and prevent those thinking them from living as they would wish.
There are a number of ways that unhelpful thoughts can be challenged; some of which are explored in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
What Is CBT?
CBT is a structured programme of talking therapy that follows a specific format, with the goal of achieving the desired change in behaviour. CBT works on the idea that thoughts, feelings and actions are all interrelated, so unwanted thoughts lead to unwanted feelings and actions.
CBT is a process by which users can become aware of the thoughts and feelings that lead to the behaviours they wish to change. Once patients are aware of their unwanted thoughts, CBT provides a mechanism for replacing them with more helpful alternatives.
If practised regularly, along with additional helpful behaviours, this process of substituting unhelpful thoughts with more useful ones can result in beneficial changes.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT works by providing the tools a patient can use to break down problems or feelings that appear overwhelming into more manageable chunks, then substituting more helpful thoughts and actions for the habitual, unhelpful thoughts.
For example: Someone may be late handing in a piece of work.
- This then triggers thoughts such as, “I am a complete failure, I can’t even get a piece of work in on time. There’s no point in trying anymore. I always fail to achieve what I need to do.”
- These thoughts, in turn, trigger feelings of misery, self-hatred and anxiety. They may lead to catastrophising (habitually fearing the worst).
- In our example, the person might think, “I’ll be sacked for not handing in that piece of work on time; I’ll never get another job; I won’t have enough money to feed my family.”
- These thoughts lead to further misery and anxiety, which can translate into physical apathy and may culminate in the person avoiding going to work at all.
CBT challenges the patient to deconstruct their thoughts, gain a sense of perspective and reframe their thoughts in a more realistic, measured manner.
For example, “I am a complete failure” may be reconstructed into, “I am a good, hard worker who is a valuable asset to the team. On this occasion, I was a little over the deadline. Next time, I will start on a project earlier, or allow more time so that I hit the deadline.”
More realistic thinking translates into more positive feelings, which, over time, lead to better outcomes.
What Does CBT Involve?
CBT involves somewhere between five and twenty or so sessions of structured work.
Patients are given exercises to practice between sessions, to hone their new skills.
Over time and with persistent practice, CBT has been shown to make a noticeable difference to a range of mental health problems.
When Is CBT Likely To Be Useful?
CBT has been shown to successfully treat the following conditions:
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
The patients who tend to get the most from CBT are ones who are prepared to challenge the way that they currently think and make a conscious effort to use the techniques they learn as part of therapy. It works well for people who like a structured way of working and who will prioritize practising the exercises which form a key part of CBT.