Updated: September 23, 2020 | Original Post: August 16, 2019
CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy, is a proven method to help treat a multitude of symptoms and conditions. CBT can help improve anxiety and depression, deal with phobias, as well as helping to process traumatic events. But how does this happen?
According to the CBT textbook that I used when in school (I list it at the bottom of the blog), the main benefit of CBT is that it is very focused on the client’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. In fact, by focusing entirely on a client’s own experiences, it very naturally leads to discussions that are relevant and specific to that client.
This to me is the source of its strength and effectiveness: it is based on a person’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours; in other words on the client. We often will have thoughts that don’t make sense and by challenging them we can learn to actually change our thought patterns.
For example, I often encourage people to be aware of when they use certain words like “but” or “should” as these words can impact our mood in a negative way. Consider this sentence: “I should have studied more” as a reaction a teen might have to a failed test. The word “should” here is a negative judgement on what they did. Since it is in the past they can’t change it.
Now read the sentence again with the word “could” instead: “I could have studied more.” This student is still acknowledging that they made a mistake but are not beating themself up over it. Simple changes like this can have a big impact on mental health.
My use of CBT focuses around challenging thoughts that might not fit into reality. I tend not to be as structured in my use of it as is done in a pure CBT environment because I feel that at times it can be more process-centred rather than client centred. Still, I think it can be a very powerful tool.
Want to learn more about CBT? My blog on CBT explains it in more detail and I encourage you to take a look. The American Psychological Association also describes CBT and for a more Canadian explanation visit the website of CAMH. The links to all three are in the text of this page.
Source: Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Westbrook, D. (2017). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy – Skills and applications (3rd ed.). London, England: Sage Publications.