Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (also known by its abbreviation, CBT) is a psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. It is goal orientated and unlike some other therapies, it is very much a collaborative process between therapist and client. Rather than the client leading the process, CBT is led by both the therapist and client by agreement. An agenda is set, problems affecting the client are identified, and the client and therapist form a team to investigate the origin of any problems and how they impact on the here and now.
The premise of CBT is that if we can identify our learned or automatic response to problems, situations or events, we can then identify an alternative way to respond. This then not only impacts on how we feel about a particular issue but also on our behaviour in response to it. CBT can relate to specific problems that we face and how we respond or react to them and can also focus on our world view and how we think, feel and respond to the wider world.
In the first instance the goal might be to work on a specific problem promoting cognitive, emotional and behavioural change. However, the ultimate goal is to promote philosophical change to help us live healthy, functional lives allowing us the chance to be happy enough, most of the time.
CBT is multi modal, meaning that we draw from a range of therapies and use what is necessary to address a client’s problems. It is a combination of psychotherapy and behavioural therapy drawn from behavioural psychology. CBT not only focuses on the importance of our personal meaning attached to every day events but also on the relationship between our problems and our behaviours.
Depending on the problem, the therapist may begin by focussing on our cognitive processes – our thoughts, images, assumptions, attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and the wider world. Sometimes however, the therapist may begin by focussing on a particular behaviour.
The CBT model can be used as a short term intervention or applied over a longer period. It is flexible and, depending on the severity of the problems to be worked through, the client and therapist will agree on the length of therapy. It is used in the treatment of a wide range of problems, including the range of anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, relationship problems and sleep problems.
What’s really useful about the process is that the skills learned and practiced can be applied to other issues and retained as a skill for life!
In part two of our guide to CBT I look at its origins and the impact of psychotherapists, Dr Albert Ellis and Dr Aaron T Beck.