How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Works


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy that looks at how we think about ourselves, other people and the wider world. This thinking then impacts on how we feel and in turn, affects our behaviour.

Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all linked. Therefore, if we think negative or upsetting thoughts, we will then feel negative or upset. We are then likely to behave in a way that reinforces those thoughts and strengthens the feelings, becoming a vicious cycle.

With the help of CBT we are able to change this negative pattern to a healthier, more rational way of thinking, feeling and behaving. We do this by understanding and making links between what we think, feel and do which can help us make these changes

CBT claims that it’s not an event in itself which causes our negative emotions, but how we interpret, what we believe or what meaning we give to that event or situation. It doesn’t mean we are to blame for our negative thought patterns but we do have an emotional responsibility, which is good news because this means it possible to change them.

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Here are some examples:-

Description (fact): Your boss pops his head round your office the door in the morning and asks if you can go and see him at the end of the day.

This can then lead to the following thoughts:-

Interpretation: “My boss has asked to see me at the end of the day … I must have done something wrong”

Inference: “My boss has asked to see me at the end of the day … I must have done something wrong and if I have he might fire me”

Evaluation: “My boss has asked to see me at the end of the day …. I must have done something wrong….he might fire me …. Oh no, if he does my life will be over… and I’ll never get another job!”

 Notice that the only ‘fact’ is that the boss popped his head round your door and said he wanted to see you at the end of the day.  Everything else are thought/interpretations – which are automatic and can happen in a matter of seconds!! Such thoughts often lead to feelings of anxiety and are accompanied by physical sensations such as nervous stomach, feeling hot, sweaty palms. These feelings consequently change our behaviour. We may pace up and down, feel restless and want to go home, or perhaps feel unable to concentrate or become withdrawn.

Strangely when we are actually faced with our worst case scenario we always deal with it. We may not like it, but we do deal with it. What troubles us is the ‘thought’ of it happening, the ‘what if’s’ so we end up having unhelpful, irrational thoughts about something that may not even happen at all.  So we spend all day feeling anxious and only to find that when we do meet our boss at the end of the day he is more than likely going to say “I just want to go through some figures with you”!

When people suffer with any unhelpful, negative emotions like anxiety, depression, anger or jealousy, these thoughts, feeling and behaviours are happening regularly, although we are not always aware of it. It often becomes a habit. All we know is that the negative emotion is troubling us. CBT can help break this down and make changes to bring about a more helpful, rational way of thinking.

It is always helpful to discuss the past and understand how our past experiences has influenced our lives.  CBT will look at this, although generally tends to focus more on the present and future, looking for ways to improve our mental wellbeing now and make positive steps for the future. Making changes in what we think will affect our feelings and the way we behave.

CBT is doesn’t necessarily teach us new things but it reminds us of what we already know.  We already know eating healthily and exercise is good for our bodies but we also need to remember that thinking in a more rational and logical way is good for our mental health.

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About Sian

Sian is a professional and qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist with two practises in Kent. She will work with you to help overcome your issues in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

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