Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: a specialist therapy used to treat anxiety disorders.
A therapy session could be seen as the ultimate slow moment. Therapy or counselling gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself for up to an hour with the help of a professional. It’s a designated time in your diary that you’re forced to use on yourself and to reflect on your life.
Whereas counselling used to be reserved for the very rich or very unwell, it has become far more common and accepted in society. There are many forms of therapy which each show their strengths in the face of different mental illnesses or mindsets. Today I’m discussing a therapy commonly used to treat anxiety: CBT.
Who can have therapy?
Therapy is available to anyone in some form or another. If you’re experiencing mental illness, your GP can refer you to free counselling, but most local authorities also offer the opportunity to self refer to local services. However, waiting lists can often be long, forcing many to consider private options.
Private therapy, if you can afford it, could be an option to avoid long waiting lists. Paying for private sessions also offers more flexibility for picking and choosing a counsellor that suits you (this is available to some degree within the public sector but is held to ransom by availability and resource). Whereas counselling on the NHS is aimed at people with a mental illness or experiencing very poor mental health, private counselling sessions can be for anyone – from patients with serious mental illnesses to those who wouldn’t class themselves as unwell, but still want to talk through negative thoughts with a professional.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of counselling primarily used to help patients with anxiety disorders, although it can be effective for eating disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia. CBT can even be useful for managing physical conditions such as fibromyalgia, IBS and chronic fatigue syndrome. CBT works by focusing on changing your way of thinking and approaching the things that make you anxious. It might be that your anxiety stems from firm viewpoints you’ve internalised, and CBT aims to change these harmful, embedded ideas. It’s particularly useful for those who respond well to logical thinking or need visual prompts to help counselling sink in.
What happens in a CBT session?
CBT differs from regular counselling, in which you pretty much just talk for the hour, in that it tackles problems logically, breaking down real life situations you have been in and clearly focusing on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to help you get to the root of your struggles with anxiety.
CBT also often uses visual aids to show what your anxiety looks like on paper. These visual aids can vary from a sheet you could be given explaining various destructive behaviours you may recognise, or your counsellor (or therapist if you prefer) drawing and writing key things you discuss on a board in front of you. For example, your counsellor may use a graph to help you chart the way you see yourself against other people, they might chart out your own personal anxiety spiral, or they may simply write lists for you to be brought face to face with your symptoms.
The logical approach helps by making your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours more tangible and giving you something to focus on. Though it isn’t a miracle cure that will get you feeling happy and confident in one session, it does help you see the irrationality in your reactions which you can then try and consider the next time you face a situation that triggers your panic attacks or social anxiety. The aim is to positively influence your behaviour and give you tools you can use to emerge from moments of anxiety quicker than before.
How long will I have CBT?
On the NHS, the standard length of treatment for someone having CBT is 5-20 sessions. This varies person to person as some will need more attention and work. It could be that CBT brings you to a point where you can more effectively manage your anxiety but need an alternative form of therapy to combat any symptoms of other mental health conditions, but this is something you and your counsellor will discuss.
As with any medical process or intervention, different types of therapy are effective for different people. CBT is most useful for those experiencing negative thought patterns they struggle to silence. To find out more about CBT and evaluate if this is a good option for you, talk to your GP or read more on Mind’s website.