Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, more commonly known as CBT, is a specific form of psychological therapy that is used to treat a range of mental health conditions without a lot of analysis and delving into the past. CBT was devised when Cognitive Therapy, which places an emphasis on thoughts and thinking patterns, merged with Behaviour Therapy, which focused on actions and behaviour. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are interconnected and ultimately influence how we feel on a day-to-day basis.
CBT claims that it is not only events or circumstances per se that influence our feelings. Rather, it is also the way we think about, give meaning to and respond to such events that affects our overall well-being.
Take, for example, the person who goes outside in the morning and discovers their car tyre is completely flat as they are about to leave for work. There are many different responses to this, but one might be, “I’m going to be late for work – my boss will be mad at me,” which would result in a feeling of anxiety. Another person might respond by thinking, ‘My car was serviced just last week – they didn’t check the tyres to make sure they were OK,” which would probably generate an angry response. A third reaction could be to think, “I just can’t catch a break; things like this always happen to me,” which would be likely to lead to a depressed mood.
This is a very simplistic example, but if you consider the person who is experiencing a divorce, preparing for exams, avoiding going out with friends or struggling to stay motivated at work, there are various processes that are likely to be influencing how they think and feel.
CBT suggests that in any given situation or event, there are thoughts, feelings and behaviours that interact with each other and directly influence how we feel overall. The aim is to unravel these processes and help people to make practical changes to improve their psychological well-being on a daily basis.
Unlike more traditional therapy, CBT is time-limited, often lasting between 10 and 20 sessions. It is also focused on the present, meaning you won’t spend time discussing and reflecting on past experiences or events. It is also collaborative, meaning you and your therapist work together to achieve goals using a variety of techniques and exercises.
How CBT can help you
CBT is based on research-based techniques that have been adapted and developed and shown to effectively treat different mental health conditions, including depression, generalised anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic attacks, social anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anger, phobias, eating disorders and difficulty in regulating emotions.
Different versions of CBT are used depending on what people are experiencing. For example, a person experiencing a phobia would not engage in the same techniques as someone who presented with depression. There are also different types of CBT for children, adolescents and adults.
CBT is most effective when it is implemented by a trained therapist. However, it can be delivered in many different ways, including individual and group therapy, online therapy and self-help books based on CBT principles.
CBT is one of the most intensively-researched forms of psychological therapy and is used around the world to treat people with psychological difficulties. It continues to be researched, updated and adapted based on new findings and research.
What happens in CBT sessions
CBT session are usually once a week and last 50 minutes to an hour. Therapists work with their clients to understand their specific difficulties, as well as the various processes that are making the problem persist. This includes understanding the various thoughts, feelings and behaviours involved and learning new ways of thinking and behaving in an attempt to reduce their difficulties. The therapist helps clients to practice these new techniques, outlining how they can be implemented and used in everyday situations moving forward. Clients are then required to practice these techniques outside the therapy room and in everyday life between sessions.
It is important to understand that CBT requires ongoing effort and engagement, including encouraging people to face their fears or whatever they have been avoiding. This sustained effort both in and between sessions is essential for making good progress during the therapy period.
• Dr Paul Gelston is a clinical psychologist at Dubai Community Health Centre. He holds additional training in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and can work with children, adolescents and adults. Dr Gelston is offering free initial consultations to anyone who follows him @drpaulgelston and references Instagram when they make an appointment.
Dr Paul Gelston is a clinical psychologist from Ireland working in Dubai. He works with children, adolescents and adults. His experience in the UAE has involved working with children and adolescents with a range of presentations, including developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD, as well as various mental health difficulties such as anxiety and low mood.