You may be familiar with the term ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ (CBT); a popular form of psychotherapy that aids those suffering with mental health issues. But, what is cognitive behavioural therapy, what does it involve and what specific conditions is it able to treat?
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
In 2015/16, 1.4 million patients were referred to talking therapies for common mental health problems. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a talking treatment that aims to alter the way you think and behave. As a fusion of cognitive therapy (analysing your thoughts) and behaviour therapy (how you act), it’s based on the idea that your thoughts on situations affect how you behave.
Cognitive behavioural therapy first became known in the 1950s. However, it was psychiatrist Aaron Beck who began to focus on cognition in regards to dealing with distress, such as in mental health conditions. In the 1980s, psychologists began to practice cognitive behavioural therapy to treat depression and anxiety. Recent research suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy may result in brain alterations to aid long-term recovery.
How Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Help?
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? It is a way to help a patient to manage their issues. As thoughts, physical sensations and behaviour are considered to be connected, negative emotions are dealt with in a positive and constructive manner. Cognitive behavioural therapy is different from other therapies as it identifies the patient’s specific problems and creates targeted goals in order to solve them. A therapist works in collaboration with the patient to treat current thoughts and behaviour, rather than tackling issues that have occurred in the past. For example, a patient who has previously gone through a difficult divorce may be struggling with feelings of failure and hopelessness, staying at home instead of going out and meeting new people.
What Conditions Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Treat?
Cognitive behavioural therapy is effective at treating a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, panic, stress, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. Furthermore, it can also be used to treat low self-esteem, anger, insomnia and fatigue.
Basics of the Practice
During the first one-to-one session of cognitive behavioural therapy, the therapist and patient will work together to dissect the patient’s issues. The therapist will also make sure that CBT is the correct form of treatment for the client – the patient may be asked about any medications they have been prescribed as well as any previous treatments they may have undertaken.
Each session lasts up to 60 minutes and occurs once every week or two weeks. A course of treatments can take place over 20 sessions, depending on the severity and complexity of the patient’s issues.
If cognitive behavioural therapy is deemed a suitable approach for the patient, an array of tasks may be completed to aid the understanding of feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
These tasks may involve:
- Thought diaries
- Questioning challenging thoughts and replacing them with positive emotions
- Recognising negative behaviour and using positive attributes instead
During each session, the patient will discuss their thoughts and behaviour with their therapist. The therapist will offer suggestions and guidance on their progress. As the patient works at a pace they are comfortable at, they are not asked to do anything they do not wish to do. The overall aim of this treatment is for the patient to apply the skills they’ve learnt to their everyday life in order to manage their issues and prevent them from having a negative impact.
Types of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
When answering 'What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?' you need to consider that it can take various forms. One particular type is exposure therapy, which is ideal for patients with phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder. This form of therapy gradually exposes patients to their fears – this begins with a situation provoking anxiety that the patient is able to tolerate. The patient normally stays in this situation for up to 2 hours or until their anxiety levels have decreased by half. This is repeated on three other occasions, where the patient will find that their anxiety isn’t as high as it was previously in that situation. The patient will then progress to tackle more difficult situations – computerised programs and self-help guides may be used during this process.
The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This form of treatment is highly effective in many cases. Its benefits include:
- Teaching useful strategies that can be utilised in daily life, even after treatment ends
- May be effective in cases where medication has not resolved the issue
- Can be used alongside medication for optimal benefits
- The structured program can be delivered in varying formats, including group sessions, computer platforms, self-help books etc.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy can be completed in a shorter period of time compared to other talking therapies.