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What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and How Can It Help Me?

May 5th, 2021

Cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy in widespread use today by many counsellors, social workers, and psychologists. The effectiveness of CBT has been upheld in the research literature for decades, and today it is considered one of the gold-standards for the treatment of a variety of psychological concerns, including mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and issues like substance use problems, relationship concerns, eating disorders, sexual problems, and psychosis. Anyone can benefit from CBT, though, and not just individuals struggling with a mental wellness concern, because CBT helps clients to identify and change negative patterns of thinking or behaving. CBT is often used with clients seeking help in individual, group, and couples therapy, both in-person and online.

So, what exactly is CBT? CBT is founded on ideas of how people learn and interpret the world around them (i.e. “cognitive”) and how people behave and the actions they choose (i.e. “behavioural”). As we move through our lives, we experience a variety of people and situations, called “activating events”, and our interpretations (or thoughts about) these situations elicit different feelings and behaviours in us. Each of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected, and any change in one of these elements will bring about change in the others. Let’s look at the diagram below to see how thoughts, feelings, and behaviours arise and interact with one another as a result of an activating event.

An “Activating Event” occurs. This is any situation that crops up in your life, from a meaningful event to the minor details of your day. It is any circumstance or situation that you may find yourself in. As a result of an activating event, we experience thoughts, or interpretations, of the situation, which then lead to changes in our emotions and behaviours:

Each of these three elements further impacts the other. If one is changed, the others will follow. For example, if while driving to work, I notice that a dangerous driver nearly hits my car (activating event), I might have the thought, “What a jerk! I can’t believe he’d do that to me.” As a result of this thought, I’m likely to feel the emotion of anger, and I’m more likely to make a behavioural change of driving faster, or shouting out loud. In turn, this could fuel thoughts of vengeance, increase my feeling of anger, and cause me to make choices that could lead to an accident.
However, if I’ve been practicing my CBT skills, I may be able to notice my original thought, and change it (called “reframing” or “restructuring” in CBT) to something more helpful. Instead, I might now think, “Yikes! It must be really stressful to be in such a rush to get where you’re going.” As a result of this thought, I might not take the event so personally, and may even feel compassion for the other driver. My actions might reflect safer driving choices on my part, which will lead to calmer emotions, and so forth.

People who struggle with negative thoughts and perceptions of their environment (for example, as a result of struggling with depression, or as a result of parental modelling of negative thinking in childhood), often experience vicious cycles of negative thinking, low mood, and behaviours that reinforce the cycle. CBT can help a client to pull out of this cycle and live a more satisfied life.
In therapy, a counsellor who uses CBT with clients helps them learn to become aware of the thoughts, behaviours, and feelings they are experiencing, the ways in which these elements are affecting them, and how they might go about making meaningful change in these areas.
Common CBT strategies used in therapy include:

  • Working with clients to set appropriate goals for counselling in areas that have value for them
  • Helping clients solve the problems in their lives and function more healthfully in their relationships
  • Teaching clients strategies to learn how to become aware, or mindful, of their thoughts, and the impact their thoughts have on their feelings and behaviours (e.g. keeping a thought log)
  • Teaching clients strategies such as re-framing thoughts and encouraging more balanced and/or positive self-talk
  • Helping clients learn and practice relaxation strategies and other techniques to soothe difficult emotions and manage stress and anxiety
  • Supporting clients in making changes in valued behaviours (e.g. exercising more frequently; practicing being more assertive)
  • Helping clients to identify situations that they typically avoid, and supporting them to gradually practice bravery and experimentation in these areas

Registered Clinical Counsellors at Back in Motion have used CBT (as well as other therapeutic modalities) successfully with clients for years. If you would like to learn more about counselling and CBT with Back in Motion, please give us a call today and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have, or schedule a counselling appointment for you.

To learn more, visit the Clinical Counselling Services webpage or call 604-425-1550.