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What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?


“Thoughts are inevitable, but believing your thoughts are optional” “We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” Buddha

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that beliefs about ourselves and indeed about other people and life, in general, have all been learned. Our (often negative) thoughts, beliefs and attitudes about ourselves (e.g. “I am not good enough;” “I do not fit in” etc.) originate from experience. These experiences are usually early in life and form the foundational knowledge and assumptions we have about who we are as a person and how we believe others think about us. These thoughts, beliefs and attitudes (which are often erroneous) make us feel bad, and impact on how we behave and interact in our relationships whether they are occupational, social or romantic. These behaviours are utilised to protect us but in the long-term can become unhelpful, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and others.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy uses two types of strategies:


Cognitive Strategies involving learning to recognize the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that make us feel bad, and reframing them into more realistic, psychologically healthy ways of thinking.


Behavioural Strategies involve undertaking certain behaviours that help us to change the way we think and feel. This often involves trying out new behaviours, which may mean confronting previously avoided situations, or trying to get rid of perfectionist behaviours, being more assertive, utilising social supports more, and increasing activity levels.


CBT is a “here and now” therapy, meaning that unlike other more traditional psychotherapies, it places more emphasis on your present experiences and thinking, than on past history. CBT comes from a standpoint, which emphasizes the impact of our cognitions (thoughts) on our emotions. Emotions are what make us human and most of us have thousands of thoughts a day, all which cause us to feel a variety of emotions. Some of these are positive, some are negative and some are incidental. Thoughts make us experience the vast array of human emotion from happy to sad; delight to disgust; anger to calm and grateful to guilt/shame. We all would like to experience more pleasant than unpleasant emotions but this is not always possible. However, it is our thoughts about something, which often cause us to experience a positive or negative emotion. If an individual has a belief about himself or herself that is negative such as, “I am not good enough;” “I am inferior;” or, “I am a bad person,” then this will likely lead to feelings of self-loathing, and inadequacy. These feelings will then have a direct impact on behaviour. For example, if you have a belief that you are “flawed,” or “not good enough,” then you may be self-conscious in social interactions, avoid eye contact, and avoid taking social risks. These behaviours may then cause you to become isolated due to a lack of close friendships. However, this consequence is as a result of a faulty belief, thought and attitude that you are “flawed” or “not good enough.”


The focus of CBT is to help an individual develop realistic cognitions to minimise overwhelming negative emotions. This is done by challenging the foundational beliefs, thoughts and attitudes an individual has about themselves that makes them feel bad, and by changing their behaviour that influences or reinforces their negative cognitions.


The aim of CBT is not to eliminate all upsetting emotions, but to help an individual respond to situations appropriately. There are many situations where it is appropriate to feel sad, regretful, annoyed and angry. It is not the case that CBT is attempting to normalise happiness or positive emotions but rather it is attempting to help those people with inappropriate negative feelings such as depression, anxiety and despair and worthlessness that arise from faulty, inaccurate and unhelpful assumptions about themselves.


Types of mental health issues which respond well to CBT include; depression; low self-esteem; anger; health anxiety; social anxiety; generalized anxiety disorder; phobias; obsessional issues and sexual dysfunction as well as others.


A word of caution: Not everyone is suited to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and as such, here at PsychologyCare we offer a number of other models of therapy such as Systemic, Psychodynamic and Existentialist which offer a different approach to people’s difficulties. The therapy, which would be most suited to you, would be decided in collaboration with you at assessment. If you would like to book an appointmet at PsychologyCare please either email me here, or call me on 0434 272 055.