How does Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) work?
I am often asked this question: How does CBT work?
by Dr David Purves BSc. MS.c D.Phil. C.Psychol, CS.ci. AFBPsS, BABCP
Providing treatment for mental health problems at the Berkshire Psychology Service here in Reading I put a lot of emphasis on one of the most important aspects of Cognitive behaviour therapy and that is to develop a clearer and more accurate assessment of what you believe about yourself.
A great life goal is be free of anxiety and depression
Let us consider this. A great life goal is to develop the ability to think accurately and clearly about yourself. This is harder than you might imagine but all effort is repaid ten-fold. Human beings have a tough time being able to take an objective viewpoint with regard to themselves.
This is not a personal defect it is simply the way the human brain is set up. All information you have to figure out how the world works comes in through your five senses and is filtered through your cognitive system until it becomes a settled belief. The filters you have in place are modified over time and by experience. But what kind of experience? That is the question.
If you habitually believe that you are not as good as other people then you will think, feel and act accordingly. When you do this you are training your system to filter out a lot of information that is in opposition to this belief. This is one reason that life change is hard. You are feeding your brain with a diet of biased information.
Therefore it is a goal of every Anxiety Therapy or Depression Treatment within CBT Therapy that you become clearer on what is accurate in your life and what is inaccurate.
The alternative to accurate thinking is inaccurate thinking and that leads to depression and Anxiety Problems, so let’s be clear… the stakes are high
The most effective therapeutic approach for treating low mood and clinical depression is called Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT Therapy.
CBT Therapy is a structured approach to working on some of the better defined and understood aspects of depression and anxiety. There is good evidence that it is both an effective and an empowering form of therapy because you are an active participant in helping yourself.
An example of negative thinking
Let’s offer an example of the power of a negative thought to frighten and depress you. Imagine that you have to speak in front of a large group of people who you think are knowledgeable about your subject. You believe that your performance is important. It matters to you how well you do. Depending upon your experience of this kind of activity, your reaction might range from excitement to absolute terror.
What would make you feel terrified?
Would that make you feel terrified?
It is easy to imagine that because you believe the talk to be important, you are also aware of every possible negative outcome that you can imagine. And, it can now feel like anxiety problems are leaking into your life ruining some of the things you hold dearest.
Here are some examples:
I will make a fool of myself.
People will know I am a fraud.
People will see I do not know enough.
I will lose control and panic while I am speaking.
People will laugh at me.
If you believed that any of these were true, or even likely, how would you feel?
You would probably feel a mixture of fear, shame, guilt, despair, helplessness, panic, anger, anxiety and a strong desire to run away and hide.
You have not even given the talk, but all of these emotions are the result of how you imagine it might go.
Self-defeating and damaging beliefs
In low mood and depression it is very common to hold a series of self-defeating and damaging beliefs about yourself. These beliefs detract from your ability to enjoy your life.
If they are very strong they can even make your very survival problematic. Many of the negative beliefs you hold about yourself have never been demonstrated, neither is there any evidence to support them. Suppose you gave a successful talk 99 times and one time you gave a poor talk. Which would be the most memorable and which would you think most accurately reflected who you are? I reckon it’s the one bad talk.
Free from fear
All of your life you have probably had normal everyday experiences. It is very rare for the negative beliefs you hold about yourself to have been demonstrated in reality.
They reside in your mind and push you to feel bad, but there is probably little or no evidence that they reflect reality.
CBT Therapy and more specifically depression treatment or anxiety therapy is a means of accessing these damaging negative beliefs and finding ways of understanding their actions and then testing them against reality. This process is easy to describe but in reality it is a profound re-working of the most fundamental negative beliefs you hold about yourself, the world and your future.
Don’t put off changing your life for the better
A Depression Treatment that really gets to grips with helping you to challenge your deepest negative self beliefs can literally change your life. Likewise an Anxiety Therapy that frees you from fear is a great gift to be cherished. When clear and open reality baths your deepest held negative beliefs this can be a great relief and is definitely a life changing experience that is worth seeking out.