A closer look at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is an evidence-based talking therapy used to treat mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. We offer CBT at Imagine Therapy so this post is to give you a bit more information about what CBT is, how it works and how it might be helpful.

I want to delve a bit deeper into some of the therapies that we offer if you are struggling with your mental health, or if you are looking for support for your child’s mental health. Over the next few weeks we will focus on CBT for anxiety and depression.

What is CBT?

CBT is a talking therapy that focusses on thoughts and feelings. It is based on the theory that our daily lives, decisions and social interactions are based in patterns or cycles of thoughts, feelings, body sensations and behaviour. Mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression can involve different cycles and these can keep us stuck. An example is that depression can make you feel low, which can lead you to stay at home rather than go out with friends. This can lead to loneliness which can make depression worse. The idea is that if we identify and change these cycles, we can move forward.

Does CBT work?

CBT is an evidence-based treatment for anxiety and depression, in both children and adults. This means that there is a large body of research that has found it to be effective. Of course, like any treatment, CBT will not work for everyone. CBT tends to focus on the present more that going into issues from the past. Some people might prefer to have an unstructured space or a therapy that focuses on processing past issues. For depression, some people will do better with a treatment called behavioural activation (we can also provide this at Imagine) and some people might need medication alongside talking therapy. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that CBT will be effective for most.

One word of warning… there are a lot of approaches out there that use elements of CBT or base a program on CBT. There is nothing wrong with these approaches and they may well be effective. However, these are not what the evidence is referring to as CBT. CBT is not one size fits all and is not as simple as some of the concepts suggest. So if you have followed a program and not found it helpful please don’t be put off trying CBT.

What does CBT involve?

CBT involves a therapist and a client. Sessions can be held in person, or remotely. I’ve met with clients in person: in an office, out in the community, at their home and in nature. I once met a client at horse stables! I’ve met with clients remotely: via video, phone and instant messenger.

CBT is unlike other talking therapies in that it is very structured and practical. Often we will set an agenda at the beginning of sessions which might include learning new information, new skills or trying out different strategies. Content of sessions is based on the cycles that are keeping you stuck, known protocols for different mental health diagnoses as well as anything that has come up during the week. At the beginning of therapy we usually map out these cycles so that we can both understand your situation in a CBT kind of a way and get an idea of what to work on.

CBT involves you doing therapy work between sessions. Usually this is little and often and is always something that we both feel could be helpful. It might be recording information, trying out something new or practicing skills. Often these that find CBT most helpful are these who commit to the between session work. My personal view is that this plays a significant part in why CBT is effective and how progress after therapy can be maintained.

Is CBT for me?

CBT is certainly worth considering if you are struggling with depression or anxiety. It is likely to be different to what you have experienced if you have previously had counselling. CBT can work well for children as young as 7-8, depending on their ability to work with thoughts and feelings. In fact, there are specific ways to use CBT with children and the evidence suggests it is just as effective with children and teens as with adults.

Obviously it is difficult to know if CBT is right for you until you try it! At Imagine we will discuss what you are looking for as part of the consult and assessment, and through this process can usually agree together whether you might find it helpful.

This post is really just an introduction to CBT. There is more information here. If you do have any questions then please get in touch, or if you are looking for CBT for yourself or your child do book a free consult through our website. Next week we will continue our focus on CBT by busting some of the myths that are out there.

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