Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, commonly known as CBT, is one of the most popular and widely researched modalities in psychotherapy. Since its creation in 1976 by psychologist Aaron Beck, CBT has served to help people cope with issues such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use, stress management, and life transitions. Due to its clarity and straight-forward approach, this modality has lent itself well in counselling psychology over the years and continues to be practiced today (Guadiano, 2008).
So what exactly is CBT? CBT helps us examine our thoughts and how those thoughts inform behaviour, which ultimately informs our overall well-being; thoughts, feelings, and behaviour all reciprocally affect each other.
CBT largely works with what are called thought distortions and core beliefs. Thought distortions are patterns of thinking- often untrue- that can lead to disorders or unwanted behaviour, and one of the goals of CBT is to notice and change these distortions. An example of a thought distortion is when we overgeneralize: “I failed one test so I’ll fail in everything else I do in school”- such a thought might prevent one from continuing to put effort into studying or enrolling in future classes, and perhaps might lead to feeling depressed or anxious (Fenn & Byrne, 2013). Other examples of common thought distortions include all-or-nothing thinking, mind-reading, discounting the positive, and catastrophic thinking (goodtherapy.org, 2015; see link for more info).
Core beliefs are the basic ideas we have about ourselves- they are what we believe are absolutely true about who we are, and it’s very likely we’ve been telling ourselves these ideas for a long time. Core beliefs are often instilled through societal values (for example, messaging we learn as a result of living in a patriarchal and capitalist society). An example of a core belief (sticking with the school example from the previous paragraph) could be “I am a failure”- this is a belief that runs deeply and probably affects many areas of life and how we interpret the world. Like thought distortions, core beliefs can have a harmful impact on a person’s wellbeing (Fenn & Byrne, 2013).
Part of the role of a CBT therapist is to help clients identify and change thought distortions and core beliefs. This can be accomplished through a variety of interventions, such as (but not limited to!) cognitive restructuring or reframing, reality testing, journaling, and homework. As with any modality of therapy, the therapist will work with you to determine which types of interventions are suitable to you and your individual circumstances. Often, CBT is well-suited for short to medium-term use and is ideal for clients looking to attend about 12 sessions, but can certainly go on for longer or be incorporated with other types of therapies in an eclectic approach.
Despite the benefits and efficacy of CBT, it may not be for everyone. CBT has been criticized as being too structured or mechanistic, with critics stating that pure CBT (opposed to being incorporated in an eclectic approach) doesn’t always consider the entire person holistically. Additionally, those who have experienced trauma may not benefit as much from CBT, as many modern trauma therapies largely work with the body and emotions rather than cognition. While it’s possible for CBT to be woven into trauma work, but must be done so by a skilled practitioner in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive way.
Regardless of what stage you are in in your counselling journey, cognitive behavioural therapy can be incredibly useful for a variety of issues, and many of the interventions are readily accessible to most people. If you are interested in learning more about CBT, you can chat with your counsellor about the appropriateness of CBT in your work.
Feel free to contact the Peak Resilience team, or take a look at the links included below!
Fenn, K., & Byrne, M. (2013). The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. InnovAiT, 6(9), 579–585. https://doi.org/10.1177/1755738012471029
Gaudiano B. A. (2008). Cognitive-behavioural therapies: achievements and challenges. Evidence-based mental health, 11(1), 5–7. https://doi.org/10.1136/ebmh.11.1.5
GoodTherapy. (2015, April). 20 Cognitive Distortions and How They Affect Your Life. GoodTherapy Blog. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/20-cognitive-distortions-and-how-they-affect-your-life-0407154
Image Source: https://neuroshaping.com/cbt-3/