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CBT - Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

What is CBT?

CBT is a treatment approach to help people experiencing a wide range of mental health problems. The basis of CBT is that what people think affects how they feel and also how they behave. During times of mental distress the way the person sees and judges themselves and the things that happens to them alters. This can worsen how the person feels and causes them to act in ways that prolongs their distress. CBT practitioners work jointly with the client to help them identify and change unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviour.

There has been considerable research which demonstrates that CBT is effective in treating a wide range of problems and psychiatric disorders, including: Depression; Adjustment Disorders, PTSD; Phobias; General Anxiety Disorders; Panic Disorders; Eating Disorders; Sexual Dysfunction; Substance Abuse; and Pain Disorders. It is effective with people of different ages, including with children, although, as with any therapy, the approach has to be adjusted to take into account factors such as age and intellectual level.

How does it work?

CBT is a collaborative approach between therapist and client. Together, they identify the precise problems or symptoms that are causing difficulties, and agree what the goals of the therapy will be. The therapist then helps the client to identify how negative thinking patterns are affecting feelings and behaviour, and also how some behaviour such as avoidance, may be prolonging their symptoms. This process is called “psych-education”. It may involve the client keeping diaries of what they think, feel and do, to help understand how this all works.

Once client and therapist have a clear understanding of the problems, the goals of therapy are broken down into smaller manageable stages, and the client is set “homework” tasks. The exact nature of these tasks varies, with each client’s therapy being very much individually tailored to their particular needs. It can include practising going into situations which make them anxious while using anxiety management techniques that have been learned in therapy sessions. In treating PTSD, it can involve repeated exposure to reminders of a traumatic event, such as through writing about it or going back to where it happened. In the treatment of Depression, the client will usually be asked to practice challenging negative thoughts as they happen, having been taught how to do this in sessions. Sometimes the therapist will initially accompany the client when they are doing a homework task such as exposure to a feared situation, if this is too difficult for them to start doing on their own.

How long does it take?

Each therapy session lasts for about 45 to 60 minutes. The number of sessions varies with the nature and severity of the problem. However, CBT is not designed to be a long term treatment approach, and the range is normally between 6 and 20 sessions.

What is the training?

Clinical Psychologists are fully trained in CBT in the course of their post graduate training. Other therapists can come from a range of different backgrounds, such as Counselling or Mental Health Nursing and have also completed an advanced training in CBT, which usually takes about two years. Once sufficiently experienced, they can become accredited as a CBT therapist through the BABCP.


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