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What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and what happens in CBT sessions?

Counselling gives the opportunity to explore your feelings, thoughts and behaviours and find effective ways to manage. There are many different approaches to counselling including person-centred, systematic and CBT.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy where people explore and understand how their thoughts, emotions and behaviours can all influence one another and sustain an unhelpful cycle.

When people notice these patterns, they can begin learning how to make changes, set achievable goals and develop new coping strategies.

Stress, low mood, and anxiety can affect many people at different times in their lives. We might feel low due to loss or feel anxious about attending a job interview. Although we often cannot change life experiences, we can change how we respond to these experiences, and we can learn how to effectively manage them.

types of counselling

What exactly is CBT?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that explores:

  • How do you think about yourself, other people and your future
  • How the way you think and feel affects the way you act
  • How what you do affects your feelings and thoughts

Dawid Bogan, a cognitive behavioural counsellor at Breathe describes CBT: “Sometimes unhelpful thoughts can be so powerful they are difficult to ignore and control. They may feel so overwhelming and distressing they can influence how we behave and even how we feel physically, having a further negative impact on our mood. This can create and then maintain what we call a vicious cycle”.

“In CBT, counsellors work with people to recognise and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours which may be causing difficulties. There’s also a focus on identifying unchangeable aspects and developing acceptance around what can’t be changed”.

“CBT can then be used to work on techniques and finding new ways of managing. In time this can change the way you feel and behave in certain situations”.

 

What happens in CBT sessions

CBT cycle

Dawid explains, “During the first session, I like to work together visually and use big sheets of paper to explore negative patterns of thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions. We may start by drawing some of the cycles a person is stuck in. This helps both of us understand some of the unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and how they are linked to how that person is feeling.

For example, we may draw a diagram representing how an anxious thought makes us avoid certain situations and then how this maintains and furthers anxious thoughts and feelings.

In CBT we would focus mostly on what is going on in your life right now, but sometimes we might also look at your past, and think about how your past experiences impact the way you see the world.

In the first or second session, we also discuss short-term and long-term goals a person would like to achieve. For example, a short-term goal could be taking a shower and the long-term goal could be returning to work after a long absence of leave.

At the end of each session, we may agree on some exercises to work on. All of these are small steps to the long-term goal. At the beginning of your next session, we may start by going over the conclusions from your previous session and discussing what progress you’ve made with any work we have agreed to do”.

 

CBT and negative thoughts

“In CBT you learn to question a self-critical or upsetting thought and replace it with a more helpful (and more realistic) one. You also recognise if you are about to do something that will make you feel worse and instead do something more helpful.”.

When you have a negative thought ask yourself, what are the facts? Do they support or disprove this thought?  Psychologist Goldman, PHD says “Doing this can help you challenge negative thinking and explore alternatives that are more helpful and realistic.

However, Goldman recommends not replacing negative thoughts with overly positive ones. If the replacement thoughts are not realistic, they won’t be helpful.

 

How does negative thinking start?

Negative thinking patterns can start anytime. For example, if you didn’t receive much attention or praise from your parents or teachers at school, you may have thought “I’m useless, I’m not good enough”.

Over time you might come to believe these assumptions until as an adult these negative thoughts become automatic. This way of thinking might then affect how you feel at work, university or in your general life. However, thoughts aren’t necessarily facts.

How effective is CBT?

Dawid says “There is a lot of research showing the effectiveness of CBT for many common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, panic, stress, phobias and OCD. CBT draws on well-tested techniques and a focused approach that encourages consistent practice.

By working together, CBT provides tools and strategies the client needs to effectively manage going forward and not feel stuck. Repeated and focused practice is essential to CBT”.

 

Are you interested in CBT?

Email hello@breathe-uk.com where one of the team will be happy to help.

Not quite ready to start counselling?

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