Understanding Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

 by Ryan Grey, Ryan Grey Counselling

COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY or CBT can be used to treat people with a wide range of mental health problems. CBT is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behavior) all interact together.

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CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.

The link between thoughts and feelings is very strong. If we are feeling a difficult, distressing emotion it is because there is a negative thought behind it. As we aren’t always aware that we are having these thoughts and because we don’t know how to control them, we call them negative automatic thoughts.

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Negative automatic thoughts are neither realistic nor helpful. Negative thoughts are often established in childhood. Events and influences in childhood can make us come to hold certain beliefs about ourselves that are damaging and lead to distressing emotions.

A child who is constantly criticized and put down can come to believe that they are not good enough. A child who is overprotected can come to see the world as a dangerous place. A child who is badly abused and neglected can come to believe that they are worthless.

Until they are discovered and challenged in CBT therapy, deep set negative automatic thoughts will continue to cause emotional distress.

This emotional distress can manifest in an anxiety or depressive disorder. It can develop into an eating disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well as many other mental health conditions.

Negative automatic thoughts strengthen over time and get worse, as we will look for evidence to back up what we believe. If we strongly believe that the world as a dangerous place, we will see evidence for this everywhere. We will see danger lurking at every corner, and we will feel insecure and anxious. If we strongly believe the world is fairly safe and secure we will also see evidence for this. We will believe that we are safe and will feel calm and relaxed.

When negative automatic thinking is left unchallenged and untreated, a vicious cycle can start to happen and it can be very hard to escape from. For example if you are feeling anxious, you may avoid situations which can trigger the anxiety. You may choose to avoid these situations, but then that could lead to you feeling even more anxious.

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This vicious cycle could have formed and strengthened over many years. It is often difficult to see until it is identified through CBT.

CBT is all about identifying negative thought patterns and drawing out negative automatic thoughts. Because negative automatic thoughts are false, we can start to look for all the evidence that proves this. We will challenge the negative automatic thinking and turn it on its head.

Once you are able to see and understand where the negative automatic thought came from and how it has affected you, you can regain power over your thoughts. Regaining power over your thoughts is regaining power over your emotions and will put you in control of your mental health.

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CBT is a collaborative process and we will work together to identify and challenge your negative automatic thoughts. We will work towards getting you back in control of your thinking and your emotions, and ultimately of your mental health. We may look at developing new, healthier thinking styles and new coping strategies that work better for you.

We will work towards whatever your personal goals are and get you the mental health and wellbeing you deserve.


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