Friday 15 September 2017

A Beginners Guide To CBT

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I feel like CBT has become quite a well known and frequently used term within society, nowadays. Lots of people know that CBT is a form of therapy for mental health problems and that NHS waiting list times are ridiculously long. You wouldn't be wrong there, but that's really as far as their knowledge goes. 

Maybe you stumbled across this post because you are planning on having CBT soon or are interested to find out more, to see if it's right for you. Maybe you haven't got a clue. You think CBT stands for something like changing brain time and believe that it involves a long black couch and a man with a long grey beard.

For whatever reason you've clicked on this post, don't worry you are in safe hands. I'm going to be taking you through the basics of CBT. Including; what it is, how it works and what problems it can be used to treat. I aim to provide an educational and informative guide for beginners to this what can seem alien concept at the beginning, a lot easier to understand. 

So what actually is CBT? 

I mean that's a pretty big question. A bit like asking what is time. But yeah I'll give it my best shot. CBT which stands for cognitive behavioural therapy is a talking therapy which focuses on how thoughts and feelings, particularly negative ones affect your behaviour. CBT done correctly will give you coping strategies to deal with these thoughts and behaviours. 

CBT is based on the idea that the way in which we think about a certain situation will affect how we feel and behave. For example, if you go to a party and find yourself worrying that everyone is looking at you, you might start to feel anxious. Physically, you might be sweating, have the nervous butterflies, start trembling or feel dizzy. This may lead you to leave the situation and avoid going to parties again.

CBT will aim to change how you interpret the thoughts. You can't really change the thoughts, but you can change how you react to them. 

How does this all actually work?

So, it works by you working with a therapist to identify the negative thinking patterns and work on changing them to hopefully change how you feel and any negative behaviours which may be having an adverse impact on your job, school, social life, etc. You will probably look at what is going on at the moment and how that is influencing your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Your also more than likely will examine your childhood or past to see how that may have lead to these negative thinking patterns. 

Is CBT going to work for me?

Some people swear by CBT, and for some people, it doesn't seem to work for them. Like I said in my antidepressants guide, everything is dependent on the individual. Just because it works for one person, it doesn't mean that it's going to work for everyone. That's okay. The important thing is you find something that does work for you. The same can be said for CBT.

CBT can be used to treat a wide range of mental health problems including; depression, anxiety, OCD, borderline personality disorder, panic attacks, PTSD, schizophrenia and phobias. CBT can also be used for physical health problems like chronic fatigue or pain. 

I'm waiting for CBT. What should I expect? 

CBT is usually a short term treatment. Usually, it takes between six and 12 sessions, typically an hour long. However, this is dependent on the severity of your problem. 

The sessions can also take shape in many different forms. For example, you might see a therapist for one to one sessions, you may be part of a group normally with people who have similar problems as you. CBT can also be delivered through a self-help book or computer program. 

The way in which your sessions are structured will largely depend on you and the problems you are going for. In your first session, you may start by writing out a timeline of your past. This may include highlighting some of the major events in your life which may have played a role in the mental health difficulties you are facing now. You also may identify your goals, which usually include what you want to get out of the sessions.

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In each session, you will probably work through exercises to try and explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, by trying to tackle those negative thinking patterns. This can often be done through worksheets or working through cognitive strategies. For instance, for my OCD, we looked at something called probability chaining, looking at the likelihood of the negative thoughts I had occurring. 

Your therapist may set you homework to do out of sessions. For example, with phobias or OCD, you may work through a hierarchy. If you suffer from depression, you may be asked to keep a self-care diary, etc. You will discuss your progress and how you've been each week at the start of each session. Some practices may ask you to fill in a questionnaire about your mood or anxiety levels, before every session just so they get an idea of where you are at. 

I don't know if CBT will be right for me, what should I do? 

It's perfectly reasonable to doubt whether something new will work, it's a big step to take after all. It's natural to want it to be perfect. Here is a list of things I would consider before deciding if CBT will be right for you:

Do I want a short term therapy? For complex or multiple mental health problems, alternative or longer therapy may be needed. You may also want to consider the time you have available, which should include travelling to sessions and time spent on tasks or homework outside of sessions. CBT also usually best works when you have clear problems and things you want to solve. If you are just generally feeling down or anxious, it may be harder to treat the problem because you need to get to the bottom of what's causing it first. 

I want CBT. How do I go about accessing it? 

Services are variable depending on the area. It's best to talk to your GP about what they can offer you within your local area. You can, however, access CBT therapists through the private sector. However, they will charge for appointments. I recommend going on counselling directory where you can ensure you are getting a professional fully qualified counsellor. 

I really hope you found this post useful and informative. If you do have any more questions, let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter, my DM's are always open. 

Thank you for reading, as always X

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