“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.
Many people, when thinking about talking therapies, conjure up an image of the patient lying back on a couch whilst a stern looking therapist asks the patient how he feels about his father. For many, this is pretty daunting and may put them off accessing therapy as a result – finding both the intimidating demeanour of the therapist and the scary prospect of having to excavate one’s past in order to heal the present a step too far for them to contemplate.
However, that image of traditional psychoanalysis is a world away from the way that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) works in practice. CBT is a relatively new approach to therapy, developing from cognitive therapy in the 1960s. It is increasingly popular due to its proven track record at symptom reduction and alleviation. CBT focuses on patterns of distorted thinking, positing that most emotional disorders and dysfunctional behaviour stem from distorted thinking. The theory goes that it is your thoughts about a situation, rather than the situation itself, that causes distress. These thoughts then have a knock-on effect on your mood and therefore, your behaviour. Change your thoughts and you can change your mood and reduce or remove any negative behaviour that results from that initial thought.
Unlike that initial image of prone and vulnerable patient, with domineering therapist taking charge, CBT is a collaborative therapy where the patient takes an equal share of the responsibility for the therapy and its success. The patient works alongside the therapist to steer the therapy, to test the distorted thoughts against a more realistic evaluation of them and to devise new ways of thinking and acting which are far more positive for the patient. In addition, the therapist and patient explore problem-solving so that the patient is able to take charge of his or her treatment in the future, lessening any likelihood of relapse.
CBT also differs from traditional psychoanalysis-style therapy in its focus on the here and now. It isn’t necessary to delve back into your childhood, to the roots of your problems to make a real, noticeable difference to your present. Whilst it may be interesting to know how a problem developed, that knowledge doesn’t necessarily change behaviour or the thoughts which underpin it. Instead, CBT focuses on your thinking processes in the here and now – changing how you feel now and into the future. Rather than spending an hour a week for years, trawling through every nook and cranny in your subconscious, CBT is a short term psychotherapy, designed to alleviate symptoms and change perceptions now and moving forwards into the future and is suitable for a range of emotional conditions, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, OCD, phobias, PTSD, eating disorders and anger issues.
Due to its brevity, collaborative nature and focus on present-day symptom reduction and practical here-and-now application, it is no wonder that CBT is growing in popularity, both within the NHS and in private practice.