What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and How Can It Help?

Navigating the ups and downs of midlife can leave any of us feeling anxious or low. For some people, this passes, but for some of us, these feelings can develop into Depression or an anxiety disorder. When it starts affecting your day to day life or relationships, it may be time to talk to someone about it.

One of the first options you will be given on the NHS is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a talking therapy designed to help you change the way you think and behave. Although it is a talking therapy, unlike traditional forms of counselling it doesn’t just involve just spending an hour talking through all your deepest darkest secrets and fears. Instead, it focused on the here and now rather than your past.

How Does CBT Work?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based around the idea that what you think and do affects the way you feel. There are helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to a situation, often determined by how you think about them.

We can all end up in vicious cycles. The problem when it comes to mental health is that sometimes the things we do to make ourselves feel better can, in the long run, make things worst. Take for example, if going to restaurants makes you feel anxious and have a panic attack. If you feel anxious whilst in the restaurant, you may want to leave. Leaving the situation usually makes you feel much better. But it reinforces the idea that you can’t go and sit in a restaurant because you will have a panic attack and this only makes the anxiety worst next time. Sometimes if you feel low, you may have negative feelings and feel like nobody likes spending time with you. You can end up feeling sad, which makes you feel more tired and lethargic. This can then cause you to cut yourself off from other people and not go out which reinforces the feelings you have that no one wants to spend time with you.

CBT Therapists will look at each stage of this cycle – your thoughts (What was going through your mind), Emotions (what were you feeling?), Bodily Sensations (what was going on in your body) and Behaviours (how did you react and what did you do?). They challenge the thoughts that cause these stages to help you recognise the cycle yourself.

It’s all about helping you learn to deal with the overwhelming problems and feelings in a positive and practical way and changing these negative patterns.

What happens during CBT sessions?

A course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can last anything between 5 to 20 sessions. During this, your therapist will help you break down your problems into the different parts of the cycle. By analysing these different areas, you will work out what thoughts and feelings or unhelpful or unrealistic and determine the effect they have on you. You will work together on ways to break those thought patterns and go away to practise doing this in your daily life.

CBT has been proven to be a very effective treatment but does require participation and practice to get the most from it. The aim is for you to leave CBT with the practical tools to help you deal with problems in the future before it turns into a bigger problem.

Should I Have CBT?

CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health problems including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias
  • Eating Disorders (like Anorexia and Bulimia)
  • Sleep Problems

What is Exposure Therapy?

Part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is exposure therapy, which is especially good for people with phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder. This might seem scary because it involves facing your fears. Talking about your fears usually doesn’t solve phobia problems because the fears are often irrational.

The best way to overcome these types of fears is to expose yourself to them. This is done in a gradual way, so don’t worry that you will be forced into a room with your worst fear! It involves exposing yourself gradually to something that causes you anxiety and then staying there. Your body usually can’t sustain the level of anxiety for long, and as you get used to the situation it will calm down. They advise staying in these situations until anxiety is reduced by half. This makes the situation easier to deal with next time, and with practice and continual exposure, become something you don’t fear anymore.

How do I start CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is available on the NHS. You can talk to your GP about your options, but you can refer yourself directly. Click here to find therapies in your area.

You can also pay for private sessions, which can cost between £40 and £100. You can find the full directory of therapists in the UK here.

The NHS also has many online resources available if you are unable to attend therapy sessions. Visit the NHS app library to find more.


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