Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that aims to help people understand that the way they think affects how they feel and consequently how they behave. It also focuses how in turn their behaviour affects the way they think and feel. In other words, in CBT, a cognitive (evaluating your thoughts) and a behavioural approach (evaluating your behaviours) are combined to assist people in managing their problems in the present. Depending on the problem identified, a particular emphasis might be given to a cognitive or a behavioural approach in the sessions. For example, if you are struggling with a condition that triggers unhelpful behaviours (such as checking or cleaning rituals in obsessive-compulsive disorder), CBT therapy will mainly address the behavioural patterns.
Thereby, CBT operates under the premise that, by changing the way we think or behave when faced with a particular problem/situation, we can alter the way we feel. This model of therapy identifies negative thought patterns and/or behaviours, with the view to challenging them and creating more realistic ones.
For example, if after a break-up you believe that ‘I’m a failure in relationships’, then you may feel anxious and low and start to withdraw. This behaviour, in turn, can lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety and consequently you avoid going out and meeting new people. This vicious cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours can lead to isolation and increased feelings of unhappiness. Rather than accepting this negative thought pattern, CBT will help you to identify alternative ways of responding in order to disrupt this negative cycle. Instead of thinking that ‘I’m a failure in relationships’, you can choose to think about what has not worked out in this particular relationship, learn from it and move on. Thinking this way may lead to positive feelings and higher confidence, which can help you to open up to the possibility of meeting new people.
Unlike some other therapies, CBT is mostly embedded in the present. Whereas past events and experiences are taken into consideration, the main focus remains on current difficulties. CBT is usually a short-term therapy model varying from six weeks to six months.