Please note, this article is not intended as medical advice. Should you be considering CBT for depression or any number of ailments, please seek medical advice from a healthcare professional. If you need urgent help, you can call The Samaritans on freephone 116 123 or email [email protected].
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy — more commonly known as CBT — is a highly-regarded and popular form of psychotherapy practised among psychologists, counsellors, and mental health clinicians with sound empirical evidence-based results for depression, anxiety, stress, phobias, addictions and other disorders.
CBT is based on the theory that the way we think about situations affects the way we feel and behave. In other words, our thoughts have a tangible impact on all aspects of our lives – including our mental and physical health.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a combination of cognitive and behavioural theory that is powerful when applied to our automatic negative thoughts – unravelling their roots to focus on the present reality and alter thinking patterns to create a more positive outlook and put our mental health back in our hands.
It almost sounds too good to be true.
But we spoke to Carole Hearn — a counsellor, life coach, and learner with Centre of Excellence — about her experience with CBT for depression, anxiety and much more. She told Centre of Excellence that her professional understanding of CBT and its practical application “has made a prolific change” to her life for the better.
Carole, 55, says her own mental health issues started when she was just 20 years old. “I suffered a nervous breakdown with immense anxiety and deep depression. I was unable to work, eat, dress or wash myself and totally shut down, being in a state of panic most of the time. This was the most frightening experience I have ever had in my life and, even now, I remember the feelings well.”
Carole was put on antidepressants, admitting she “naively thought, as many people do, the antidepressants would just make [her] better”. It took her a long time to discover she “had to work with them and contribute to the recovery too”.
Inspired by her father — who taught her that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right — and her love of learning, Carole embraced her existing interest in psychology. She told Centre of Excellence, “I realised that if I understood what was happening to me, it may help me cope,” exclaiming, “Knowledge is power!”
So, Carole began reading, contacting mental health organisations and reaching out to others living with mental illness, which she said helped “empower” and “reassure” her that she wasn’t alone.
During this time, Carole also tried counselling, which did help her talk about her depression and how she was feeling, but was, in her experience, “not really helpful” as “it did not offer skills in how to cope” and manage her mental health.
CBT for depression and anxiety, on the other hand, appealed to Carole “because of its ability to change someone’s thought process” and outlook. Indeed, she found the practice “logical and forward-thinking” for its focus on the future “rather than dwelling on the past” and picking it apart “which can be quite painful”. Instead, she says, CBT concentrates on empowering people to “move forward in their life”.
As Carole — who has since gone through grief and bereavement, multiple miscarriages, divorce, a new relationship and extended family issues — says, “It can sometimes be the way we react to events in our life, rather than the event itself, that can be harmful.”
Her knowledge of psychology and CBT has helped Carole identify her negative thoughts patterns, understand her feelings — which she says is “half the battle” — readjust her thinking and challenge her core beliefs. Ultimately, she says, CBT has helped her change her outlook to “improve [her] mental health” and “move forward from whatever [she has] gone through”.
Carole now finds the following questions helpful to think “more rationally” and “calmly” when facing negative thought patterns:
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- What’s holding me back?
- What evidence do I have that proves my thoughts?
- How can I turn this around?
Moreover, Carole says the positive impacts of CBT have been far-reaching. She has been able to help friends and family — as well as her son, who has anxiety issues — cope with situations, using CBT. She adds, “He would have to wait months to access mental health services so I am so pleased I have a son who is quite open and happy to talk to me, but also that my knowledge has helped me help him.”
It is clear talking to Carole that she is a deeply empathetic person who takes great joy in helping others. But she admits she has had to “challenge some of the core beliefs I have had in the past when I have felt I couldn’t do something or I wasn’t good enough”. CBT, she says, "has helped tremendously with confidence issues and self-esteem" – enabling her to feel better about herself and accept the person she is, wholeheartedly.
Carole adds, “It has helped me recognise any negative core beliefs and work on them, with the knowledge that these beliefs have been learnt in my life and if I have learnt them, I can unlearn them.”
While her story is unique, Carole’s belief in the use of CBT for depression and anxiety is not. CBT for depression and anxiety is now the treatment of choice for many.
The demand for this type of accessible talking therapy is certainly indicative of the global mental health epidemic — but for people like Carole, it has also offered new career opportunities and other avenues to find happiness and fulfilment by helping others.
After being told by family and friends for years that she should have been a counsellor, Carole — who initially trained in secretarial work at school — is now launching her own life coaching business. She says it “seems unreal, but so exciting” after months of tireless work and study.
Like so many, the pandemic acted as a catalyst for a career pivot Carole has considered for years.
No stranger to running a business, the mum-of-two had operated a childminding business for 14 years, achieving two Outstanding grades from Ofsted, until the pandemic hit. With no clients who were keyworkers, thus no children to take care of, Carole had to close her business.
The avid learner had been studying with Centre of Excellence while still working as a childminder “due to its flexibility and home learning experience”. Carole had undertaken several courses to help her clients, as well as herself, including Psychology, CBT, Advanced CBT, Counselling Skills, Life Coaching, and Safeguarding. Thanks to the “accessible” study from her phone or laptop and the encouragement and support available from the Centre of Excellence team, she had been happily progressing “at [her] own pace”.
But last year, Carole “was able to accelerate the learning to move towards my goals faster” after her childminding business closed.
Illustrative of her positive outlook, she now considers this opportunity to pursue a passion of hers during such a dark time “fate”, adding, “with mental health being a concern during this time, I felt it was my calling to follow this path”.
Carole, who also studies with the Open University and plans to undertake further Centre of Excellence courses, including Journal Therapy, Positive Psychology, and specific courses for depression, anxiety, anger, mindfulness, addiction, relaxation, and young people’s mental health, said, “Centre of Excellence courses have greatly helped me with skills and confidence in my ability to study.”
Carole is now looking forward to offering virtual life coaching sessions through her new business, aptly called Clarity, as well as in clients’ own homes — a service that she thinks is not readily available enough. The Maldon resident adds, “I believe that anyone should have access to mental health support, so I want to make it as comfortable and accessible as possible.”
Quite often, Carole says, we do not realise our thoughts and beliefs are contributing to our mental and physical health. With this theory in mind, she hopes to help many others like her identify this and start their journey to recovery and “continue to a better life”.
“I have become a much more positive person who tends to find the good in most of life,” Carole concludes, happy in the knowledge that no matter what she experiences, she has the capacity to cope.