Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, often known as CBT, is a practical set of techniques often used with success in helping people to deal with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, post traumatic stress or phobias such as social anxiety. CBT therapists can also help people with confidence or self esteem issues, relationship issues, anger management problems, addiction problems, eating disorders or sleeping difficulties. With chronic physical health conditions it cannot cure the physical symptoms but it can help people to cope better.
Can CBT Be Used to Cover Such a Wide Range of Conditions?
The reason why CBT therapists can be useful in helping people to overcome or manage a wide range of different health conditions is because CBT focuses on the way in which your thinking patterns can contribute towards a condition or towards your response to having that condition. If you have ever been caught in a cycle of negative thinking about yourself or your situation then you may be able to identify with this model which helps you to balance or counter negative thoughts with constructive and realistic ways of thinking.
Once you develop new ways of thinking about yourself or about others or about your situation, this in turn can help you to feel better and more positive, which leads to a virtuous cycle where you act more positively and your mood improves.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT involves a number of different techniques. One element of CBT is that you might be helped by your therapist or coach to identify ‘thinking errors’ that you sometimes fall into. Two examples of possible ‘thinking errors’ are:
Mind Reading – where you make negative assumptions about what other people are thinking about you or about a situation and this in turn leads you to feel bad.
For example, you might interpret a particular comment by a friend on an issue which you are sensitive about as being an implied criticism, when that may not necessarily be the case – the friend might not appreciate the importance of the issue for you and in some instances their comment might not be intended to hurt at all. Interpreting the comment as a criticism may lead you to get angry with that other person and/or to turn the perceived criticism inwards and see yourself as a failure rather than to recognise your qualities or abilities.
Another example would be that if you experience social anxiety you may think in a social situation that everyone is laughing at you or thinking critically of you, when in fact many people are not actually thinking about you at all because they have their own problems.
Fortune Telling – this is another kind of ‘thinking error’ where you have a tendency to make negative predictions about the future – imagining that the worst will happen. In these cases, your negative beliefs can influence your feelings and your actions so that unwittingly you increase the prospects of the negative situation happening. For example, you fear that your partner might have an affair – this leads you to pressurise them – they begin to feel unhappy with the relationship and that increases the prospect of them being unfaithful or criticising you…
A good coach or CBT therapist who uses CBT techniques can help you in a non-judgemental way to identify negative thoughts patterns and then to use positive self talk or other techniques when those habitual negative thoughts arise to counter them and to help you act and respond in more constructive ways in the situation.
Balancing Negative Core Beliefs
Alternatively it might be that you have an underlying negative ‘Core Belief’ about yourself such as that you are a failure or not good in relationships. Unwittingly that could lead you to enter into situations or relationships where you allow yourself to be put down by others.
CBT therapists can help you to:
• Identify negative thinking patterns or negative core beliefs about yourself or others
• Balance them with more accurate perspectives or with a recognition of positive qualities and abilities that you do have but do not always recognise or acknowledge
• Find ways of moving into situations or relationships that are potentially more positive for you or help you to manage existing situations and relationships in a healthier way
• Replace negative core beliefs with a more positive self image that improves your prospects of handling situations better and creating healthier relationships.
Recognition of CBT
CBT is widely recognised as being an effective psychological therapy for helping particular mental health conditions involving a psychological component. For example, in the UK, in its guidelines for the NHS on the treatment of people with depression and anxiety issued in December 2004, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of CBT as a treatment option.
This article is written by David Bonham-Carter, a life coach specialising in the use of CBT to help deal with negative thoughts, self esteem, relationships, stress and anxiety. More information on CBT is available on his website.