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(CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can appear to be a complex form of treatment. However, once engaged, you can begin reaping the many successes that come as a result of your therapeutic involvement.

CBT generally includes participation in numerous steps that help change problematic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. First, you will work with your therapist to identify your prominent areas of concern. This can include anything from feeling overly angry to experiencing panic attacks.

For some, there might be more than one issue that plagues them. However, working to identify issues with a therapist can help you decide which issues you want to address first.

Once the main areas of concern are identified, your therapist will work with you to help you become aware of your thoughts and emotions surrounding these issues. This process will be prompted by your therapist, who will encourage you to communicate as much as you can about your thoughts and feelings. This can include determining your personal beliefs, your values, and your perception of the world and others.

Examining self-talk — which is what a person thinks about themselves, their feelings, and their behavior — is also common during this step. It is suggested that you keep a journal at this time so you can document your thoughts.

In CBT, a therapist helps you recognize any negative patterns of thinking or behavior that you communicate or record. A therapist will also work to get you in tune with your physical and emotional responses in preparation for change. Your therapist helps you recognize any negative patterns of thinking and behavior and asks you to challenge your self-talk to impact your behavior.

 

What happens during CBT sessions

If CBT is recommended, you’ll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every 2 weeks.

The course of treatment usually lasts for between 5 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes.

During the sessions, you’ll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions.

You and your therapist will analyze these areas to work out if they’re unrealistic or unhelpful, and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you.

Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

After working out what you can change, your therapist will ask you to practice these changes in your daily life and you’ll discuss how you got on during the next session.

The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life.

This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life, even after your course of treatment finishes.

Pros and cons of CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication in treating some mental health problems, but it may not be successful or suitable for everyone.

Some of the advantages of CBT include:

  • it may be helpful in cases where medication alone hasn’t worked
  • it can be completed in a relatively short period of time compared with other talking therapies
  • the highly structured nature of CBT means it can be provided in different formats, including in groups, self-help books and apps (you can find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library)
  • it teaches you useful and practical strategies that can be used in everyday life, even after the treatment has finished

Some of the disadvantages of CBT to consider include:

  • you need to commit yourself to the process to get the most from it – a therapist can help and advise you, but they need your co-operation
  • attending regular CBT sessions and carrying out any extra work between sessions can take up a lot of your time
  • it may not be suitable for people with more complex mental health needs or learning difficulties, as it requires structured sessions
  • it involves confronting your emotions and anxieties – you may experience initial periods where you’re anxious or emotionally uncomfortable
  • it focuses on the person’s capacity to change themselves (their thoughts, feelings and behaviours) – this doesn’t address any wider problems in systems or families that often have a significant impact on someone’s health and wellbeing

Some critics also argue that because CBT only addresses current problems and focuses on specific issues, it doesn’t address the possible underlying causes of mental health conditions, such as an unhappy childhood.


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