CBT is a form of therapy that seems to divide opinions more than most other forms of therapy I've heard of. And that's natural. What works for one person, won't necessarily work for the next person. It makes sense. This is why there's so many forms of therapy out there: clearly not all people respond to the same therapy in the same way. As such, some people sing the praises of CBT, whilst others rate it as being utterly useless.
So, today I'm chatting about what CBT is about; what it's designed to do, and as a result of this, why it might/might not be good for you. Obviously I'm no healthcare professional, so I could never say that 100% yes, CBT will fix all of your problems, or no, it'd be totally useless for you. Instead, I'm laying out what CBT is all about, to perhaps let you think a little bit more about it, and get to know the subject a little better.
CBT stands for cognitive behavioural therapy
It's a therapy that's all about changing the relationships between your thoughts and behaviours. As you may have guessed by the above, it is not a talking therapy. CBT sessions are not about discussing your feelings or past traumas, and focuses instead on changing behavioural patterns.
Thinking about vicious cycles
At the centre of CBT, is the attempt to break down the vicious cycle that I've included in my image, i.e. thoughts which lead to physical feelings/emotions, which lead to behaviours, which lead to thoughts, and so on. This is the way humans respond to any kind of stimulus, but CBT attempts to break down damaging behaviours involved in this kind of cycle.
For instance, one thing we worked on in my CBT was my reluctance to leave the house. My thought was that I would forget something that was inside the house, or be late to where I was going. The physical feelings that came about as a result were nausea, tears and panic sweating. The behaviours I engaged in as a result of it were not leaving the house and repeatedly checking my bags over and over again once outside of the house. You are challenged to look at these cycles and determine how you can break them.
I think CBT can be very hard to undergo if you're in a particular crisis with your mental health. I underwent my course of CBT two years after my mental health was at its worst, and while it was useful at that point in my life, I don't think I would have found it very helpful earlier on. Each session is something that you're required to organise with the therapist. It's obviously advisable that you go regularly, and continue the series of sessions until the end, but there's nothing really stopping you from not going. People have between 5 and 20 sessions. CBT is something that has a finite end, and so if you really want a long term therapy, this might not be right for you. There also tends to be a two week gap between sessions. A lot can happen in two weeks, and sometimes it's hard to keep on track.
CBT comes with homework, which is one of the main reasons why I think it's a therapy that's good for when you're feeling a little more stable. Each session aims to tackle the vicious cycle in a different way. Over the two week break you're expected to keep a track of how things changed/didn't change and you sometimes need to fill out activity sheets to bring in for the next session. This isn't ideal if you're struggling with every day tasks, but I've found the tools I used useful in the long run.
Perhaps the most memorable/useful example of this for me in the long run was list-making. I was asked to think about all the things I need to do in life, e.g. paying bills, showering, attending seminars at uni, etc. And then I was asked to think about them in three categories: necessary things to do (e.g. going to work, paying bills), routine things (e.g. having breakfast, showering) and pleasurable things (e.g. blogging, watching Netflix). I was then asked to plan our a fortnight including one thing from each category on each day. Obviously this was a lot of 'homework' to do.
It's down to you
A big part of CBT is the expectation that you need to change things in order for your mental health to improve. All of the action plans put in place will only work if you adhere to them, and do the necessary work to get them off the ground. As such, it can be quite draining, and intense.
All in all, I honestly found CBT incredibly useful in the long run, but during the treatment period I was a little disappointed. My opinion of therapy was that it would make me better, and that the therapist would be there to discuss my problems with me, but it never really went that deep. I'm now trying emotional counselling, which I've written all about here, and I think it suits me much better!
Have you tried any form of therapy? Did you find it helpful?