CBT Counselling For Life Changes

By Nicola Kirkpatrick|Updated March 31, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Within the wider discipline of psychotherapy there are several different modalities for treatment. Each of these represents an option to the patient, based on what mental health condition he may be suffering from, what his therapist's skills are, and his personal preference. Out of the many available choices, many people are opting for CBT counselling.

What is CBT Counselling?

The abbreviation stands for cognitive behavioural therapy. This is something of a mouthful, but in practice, CBT counselling is a form of talk therapy based on the principle that what you think, what you feel, and how you cope with the world should be seen as an interconnected system rather than as separate entities.

Any mental activity, from playing the violin to thinking about kittens, causes the physical growth of microscopic structures in the brain related to that action. This is one reason why practice makes us better at something. Taking this reasoning just a little further, when we are experiencing a certain emotion or re-running a certain track of thought, we are essentially practicing feeling that way, or thinking those thoughts. One of the main goals of CBT counselling is to derail that train if it consistently leads to negative feelings or harmful actions.

Characteristics of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

If your knowledge of psychotherapy has mainly been provided by television, you may be under the impression that all talk therapy revolves around exploring the root causes of problems in order to resolve issues by making peace with the past. While this is certainly a valid and worthwhile approach to counselling, CBT's focus is almost completely on the present and future - changing the behaviour and feelings you have today. Perhaps because of this, a course of CBT therapy is often much shorter than is the case with other therapeutic modalities.

If your problems seem to be too vast to deal with all at once, a CBT counselor will tend to show you ways in which you can break them down into smaller, more manageable parts. For instance, if you are struggling with alcohol addiction, he might ask how you feel before and during drinking, what situations lead up to such feelings, and what kind of things you're thinking about during this time. The emphasis is always on finding practical, applicable solutions to present-day problems rather than only gaining self-knowledge. Self-knowledge or self-awareness is important, however, as recognizing what patterns we have developed is an important step in the process. It's just that it's not always necessary to dive far back in our past to come up with current day strategies.

Although many people prefer other forms of counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be very effective for those who want to change habits, treat severe conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as those simply striving for better mental health. It's a popular therapy for those that like concrete techniques and strategies that they can apply in their everyday life. While it is a form of talk therapy, CBT is very collaborative, as client and therapist work together to implement positive change.

A Few CBT Techniques

So how exactly do we go about changing how we think? CBT uses many different techniques to help us alter our negative internal thought patterns. Learning these techniques from a CBT therapist and utilizing them outside of sessions can really help to teach people to recognize thoughts that might be problematic and then to challenge these thoughts.

  1. Recognizing Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are ways of thinking that lead us to believe that certain thoughts are undeniably true. There are over 15 cognitive distortions, so here are a couple of the most common ones: Black or White Thinking and Shoulds.

Black or White Thinking: This is thinking that everything is black or white, all or nothing. There are no gray areas in black or white thinking. For example, "I failed my test, I will never graduate!" Is this true? Or are you feeling discouraged by one test and on the last test you received an A?

Shoulds: These are the rules we have in place for ourselves and others. And if we break a "rule," we feel guilty. Or if someone else breaks the "rule," we get mad. For example, "I should never yell at my kids." Sure, it's not an ideal way to always respond to your kids, but is it realistic to never get angry? Also, is there a more helpful way to phrase that thought so that I don't get so mad at myself when I do something I "shouldn't" do?

  1. Journaling

Many people journal already, as a way to keep a record of their lives and get their thoughts down on paper. CBT uses journaling as a way to gather evidence and information. By writing things down regularly, we can constructively track our moods and thoughts, allowing us to challenge the reality of thoughts, moods or actions that may not be or have been productive. Journaling promotes self-awareness which then can lead to positive change.

  1. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is only possible once we have determined the thought patterns and resulting behaviors that we'd like to change. It involves learning: what's behind the thought; what led us to think in that way; and how it became so ingrained in our brain. Then, we may be able to: challenge the thought; to examine how it's affecting us, and determine the reality of the situation. Basically, we restructure the thought so that it is healthy and reflects reality.

These examples give insight into the many techniques that make CBT so accessible. It is easy to explain and to use in many different therapeutic formats, and usually generates results quickly.

In Conclusion

Being a very structured approach based almost exclusively on verbal communication, CBT is also well suited to online counseling services, whether done over the phone, text chat, or by video conference. This brings effective, professional therapy within reach of many people who could otherwise not afford help, as well as others whose lifestyle or circumstances make regular visits to a psychologist's practice difficult.

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CBT is not suitable for everyone or every mental health issue - any CBT counselor who believes that it isn't the right option for you will quickly refer you to a different kind of therapist. However, regarding lasting benefits which can be obtained relatively quickly, it remains one of the best options to consider.

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