Cognitive–behavioural Therapy

An approach to overcoming psychological problems that aims to change unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour

Often known simply as CBT, cognitive–behavioural therapy is based on the idea that some psychological problems arise from a person’s erroneous or unhelpful cognitions (ways of perceiving and thinking about the world and/or oneself). These faulty cognitions can, in turn, result in unhelpful behaviour. CBT helps people to recognize and understand their current thought patterns and behaviour and shows them ways to consciously adopt more helpful thinking styles and behaviour. CBT does not always look at past events, although it incorporates methods of doing so when necessary.

When is it used?

People who suffer from depression or those who lack confidence often benefit from CBT because it helps them to identify and change the thoughts and behaviour that contribute to their low mood or poor self-esteem. Such thoughts may include “I am a failure”, and “no one likes me because I am ugly”; such behaviour may include withdrawal from other people and avoiding situations that are perceived as being threatening.

By pointing out inconsistencies in thinking, cognitive–behavioural therapists can help people who have extreme concerns about their body shape, such as those with anorexia nervosa. Similarly, CBT can help people to break habitual patterns of thought and behaviour in, for example, obsessive–compulsive disorder.

In conjunction with drug treatment, CBT has been found to help some people with schizophrenia to cope better with some of their symptoms, such as hearing voices.

What does it involve?

At the initial session your therapist assesses your problem, and together you decide on an approach to solve it.

People undergoing CBT are often asked to keep a diary of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. For example, someone suffering from anxiety might be asked to record the thoughts and feelings that precede and accompany an anxiety attack as well as what they did to cope.

During a therapy session, the therapist helps you to analyse the thoughts, feelings, and behaviour you have recorded and asks if you now feel they were appropriate to the circumstances. Once you identify the ones that are inappropriate, your therapist will then help you develop techniques for changing them.

In some people, attempts to change ingrained ways of thinking may produce anxiety. To help people cope with this anxiety, the therapist may teach techniques such as breathing exercises and muscle relaxation.

You will probably see your therapist weekly for sessions lasting about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you have a specific problem, such as stopping an unwanted habit, your therapy may last only for a few weeks. For more complex problems, such as low self-esteem, you may see your therapist for months.

What can I expect?

Once therapy is finished, you will probably need to make a conscious effort to analyse and challenge your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour for a while. However, many people find that their new, more appropriate patterns eventually become incorporated unconsciously.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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