Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a collaborative and skills-oriented treatment approach that teaches you to become your own therapist. You will work with your psychologist to set mutually agreed upon treatment goals and learn strategies that you will practice between sessions to help you work towards these goals.
The focus of treatment is on the here-and-now, particularly in the early stages of treatment, meaning that it focuses on the factors that are currently maintaining your problems. An emphasis on the negative thinking patterns (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, worries) and behaviours (e.g., avoidance, withdrawal, excessive reassurance-seeking) that are currently maintaining your problems results in quicker improvement in symptoms and functioning.
CBT is a short-term treatment approach that is both structured and goal-oriented. You will identify specific problems to work on and then learn new skills to achieve your treatment goals in a systematic way. This will allow you to efficiently accomplish your treatment goals and increase your confidence that you have the skills required to be your own therapist following treatment.
How does CBT work?
The basic premise of CBT is that distorted ways of thinking can cause or worsen problematic emotions, physical symptoms, and behaviours. As shown in the diagram below, each of these areas can affect the others.
As seen, the way you think about a situation can have a large impact on how you feel (both emotionally and physically) and how you choose to respond to a situation. Unfortunately, sometimes the way we respond to situations can create new situations that make us feel even worse. Fortunately, if we are able to intervene at some point in this cycle, by challenging negative automatic thoughts and assumptions or by changing our behaviour, for example, it can reverse the cycle. CBT works by identifying negative thoughts and assumptions, determining whether the thoughts and assumptions are distorted by examining the evidence for them, and then replacing them with more accurate or adaptive thoughts, which in turn, leads to more adaptive behaviours.
Is CBT effective?
CBT has been supported by decades of research, and is considered a “first-line” or “gold standard” treatment for depression, anxiety disorders (obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders (bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder), and a variety of other problems. CBT has been shown to be equally or more effective than other forms of psychological treatments and medications for these disorders. However, CBT has an added advantage of reducing relapse rates following treatment because it teaches people skills to become their own therapists.