Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps people to manage their problems by changing negative thought and behaviour patterns. It is a goal-orientated type of psychotherapy that places emphasis on the here-and-now, rather than focussing on past events.There are a number of variants including Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Schema Therapy.

History

CBT can be traced back to the 1950s. Psychotherapist, Albert Ellis, who had grown frustrated with certain aspects of psychoanalysis, which he considered to be inefficient and oblique, established a more directive approach which he named, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy.

REBT is based on the theory that each individual has a personal philosophy which consists of certain beliefs that cause emotional pain. Ellis encouraged therapists to actively engage with their clients to alter self-defeating notions by exposing their irrationality and negativity.

Ellis was the first to advocate the use of rational analysis and cognitive reconstructions to help people identify their negative thought processes in relation to their core irrational beliefs so that they could develop more rational thought constructs.

Another major figurehead in the development of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was Aaron T Beck. Beck shared many of Ellis’s theories, particularly those relating to the recognition and changing of negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviours.

To Beck, identifying and understanding these thoughts was essential if the individual was to overcome their difficulties. His seminal work Depression: Causes and Treatment (1967) was highly influential and was very effective at treating depression.

Method

The Cognitive Behavioural approach is rooted in the principle that a person’s own cognitions (awareness, perception, judgment and reasoning) play a major role in their emotional and behavioural responses to certain situations. There are three fundamental assumptions which underpin cognitive behavioural counselling:

The first is that cognitive processes can be identified and understood. Although these thoughts may not always be immediately evident, individuals can be made aware of them by through guidance and practice.

The second assumption is that our thinking influences how we respond to our environmental cues. So the way a person views their reality is central to how they react to that reality.

The third assumption is that such cognitions can be identified and changed to become more positive and rational. As a result of this modification, the individual’s problematic symptoms may be relieved, allowing for a more balanced, functional approach to life.

Therefore, practitioners attempt to help their clients to identify and stop negative thought and behavioural patterns. If a client finds it difficult to identify negative thoughts, the therapist may try to address certain behaviours such as avoidance or withdrawal.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy features a variety of techniques and methods. These include:

  • the setting of realistic goals
  • helping the client cope with stress through relaxation techniques
  • identifying situations that are usually avoided by the client
  • identifying and challenging negative thoughts and also
  • keeping a record of feelings, behaviours and thoughts

How can CBT help?

CBT has become an extremely popular form of psychotherapy and is commonly used to address mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

However, it can also be useful for people with drug misuse issues, eating disorders and sexual problems. Treatment takes place on an individual or group basis, with many therapists also offering CBT for couples.

Useful CBT Resources

Albert Ellis Institute

Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies