Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavior therapy has been clinically and research proven as an effective approach to mental health care. There's a mountain of research by psychologists and psychiatrists that show why CBT has become one of the preferred treatments for conditions such as these . . .
Just what is CBT? How does it work?
- Depression and mood swings
- Shyness and social anxiety
- Panic attacks and phobias
- Obsessions and compulsions (OCD)
- Chronic anxiety or worry
- Post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSD)
- Eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) and obesity
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Difficulty establishing or staying in relationships
- Problems with marriage or other relationships
- Job, career or school difficulties
- Feeling "stressed out"
- Insufficient self-esteem (accepting/respecting yourself)
- Inadequate coping skills, or ill-chosen methods of coping
- Passivity, procrastination and "passive aggression"
- Substance abuse, co-dependency and "enabling"
- Trouble keeping feelings within bounds
- Over-inhibition of feelings or expression
Cognitive behavior therapy is a combination of two very effective kinds of psychotherapy - Cognitive Therapy (sometimes called Cognitive Restructuring) and Behavior Therapy.
Behavior therapy helps you weaken the connections between troublesome situations and your habitual reactions to them. Reactions such as fear, depression or rage, and self-defeating or self-damaging behavior. It also teaches you how to calm your mind and body, so you can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.
Cognitive therapy teaches you how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms - by giving you a distorted picture of what's going on in your life, and making you feel anxious, depressed or angry for no good reason, or provoking you into ill-chosen actions.
When combined into CBT, behavior therapy and cognitive therapy provide you with very powerful tools for stopping your symptoms and getting your life on a more satisfying track.
CBT - a cooperation between you and your therapist
In CBT, your therapist works with you in solving your problems. He or she doesn't settle for just nodding wisely while you carry the whole burden of finding the answers you came to therapy for.
You will receive a thorough diagnostic workup at the beginning of treatment - to make sure your needs and problems have been pinpointed as well as possible.
This crucial step - which is often skimped or omitted altogether in traditional kinds of therapy - results in an explicit, understandable, and flexible treatment plan that accurately reflects your own individual needs.
In many ways CBT resembles education, coaching or tutoring. Under expert guidance, as a CBT client you will share in setting treatment goals and in deciding which techniques work best for you personally.
Structured and focused
CBT provides clear structure and focus to treatment. Unlike therapies that easily drift off into interesting but unproductive side trips, CBT sticks to the point and changes course only when there are sound reasons for doing so.
As a CBT client, you will take on valuable "homework" projects to speed your progress. These assignments - which are developed as much as possible with your own active participation - extend and multiply the results of the work done in your therapist's office.
You may also receive take-home readings and other materials tailored to your own individual needs to help you continue to forge ahead between sessions.
What else is different about CBT?
Most people coming for therapy need to change something in their lives - whether it's the way they feel, the way they act, or how other people treat them. CBT focuses on finding out just what needs to be changed and what doesn't - and then works for those targeted changes.
Some exploration of people's life histories is necessary and desirable - if their current problems are closely tied to "unfinished emotional business" from the past, or if they grow out of a repeating pattern of difficulty. Nevertheless, 100 years of psychotherapy have made this clear . . .
Past vs. present and future
Focusing on the past (and on dreams) can at times help explain a person's difficulties. But these activities all too often do little to actually overcome them. Instead, in CBT we aim at rapid improvement in your feelings and moods, and early changes in any self-defeating behavior you may be caught up in. As you can see, CBT is more present-centered and forward-looking than traditional therapies.
The levers of change
The two most powerful levers of constructive change (apart from medication in some cases) are these . . .
Altering ways of thinking - a person's thoughts, beliefs, ideas, attitudes, assumptions, mental imagery, and ways of directing his or her attention - for the better. This is the cognitive aspect of CBT.
Helping a person greet the challenges and opportunities in his or her life with a clear and calm mind - and then taking actions that are likely to have desirable results. This is the behavioral aspect of CBT.
In other words, CBT focuses on exactly what traditional therapies tend to leave out - how to achieve beneficial change, as opposed to mere explanation or "insight."
CBT has been very thoroughly researched. In study after study, it has been shown to be as effective as drugs in treating both depression and anxiety. In particular, CBT has been shown to be better than drugs in avoiding treatment failures and in preventing relapse after the end of treatment. If you are concerned about your ability to complete treatment and maintain your gains thereafter, keep this in mind.
Other symptoms for which CBT has demonstrated its effectiveness include problems with relationships, family, work, school, insomnia, and self-esteem. And it is one of (see our other treatment approaches) the preferred treatment for shyness, headaches, panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, loneliness, and procrastination. It can also be combined, if needed, with psychiatric medications.
What about drug treatment?
CBT is usually employed by itself, without psychiatric drugs. However, we have found that in combination with our other approaches such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and/or the Sedona Method, CBT is particularly useful in identifying the issues. CBT with either one of these is particularly effective in bringing about desireable changes. For some people, (chiefly those with psychotic symptoms), drugs are essential and may need to be continued indefinitely. For others, short-term drug treatment is needed to obtain a partial reduction in symptoms before CBT, EFT or Sedona Method can be fully effective.
Most doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists (and in our experience most patients) would prefer to try a therapeutic approach alone before prescribing or taking medications.
There are several reasons for that:
Benzodiazepine drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), as well as certain other types of tranquilizers, can be habit-forming if taken over a long time or in high doses. This is a complication that needs to be avoided if possible. Despite their reputation as "wonder drugs," antidepressants such as amitryptaline (Elavil) and fluoxetine (Prozac) work only about 60-75% of the time. MAOI drugs (e.g., Nardil) carry a risk of hypertensive crisis, stroke or even death if common foods or beverages containing tyramine are unintentionally consumed. Finally, the mood stabilizer lithium carbonate can produce toxic reactions unless it is very carefully monitored.
In addition, research studies have revealed these other facts about drug treatment for depression and anxiety:
· CBT and well-chosen drugs, when each is used alone, are about equally effective during the period of active treatment.
· Adding drug treatment to CBT does not necessarily yield better results than using CBT alone.
· Treatment failure is more likely when drugs are used, typically because of side effects.
· Relapse after the end of treatment is more likely when only drugs have been used. This is believed to be because drugs, unlike CBT, don't encourage the development of valuable coping and emotional management skills.
There are questions about antidepressant drug use
On top of all of that, a number of questions have been raised about antidepressant drugs - which are increasingly being prescribed for anxiety conditions as well:
- Is their effectiveness scientifically justified?
- What side effects and withdrawal symptoms can occur?
- Can they safely be used by children?
- Are they safe with other psychoactive drugs?
- What theories of depression support their use?
- Are they as helpful as tested psychotherapies?
CBT is usually brief
Most CBT patients are able to complete their treatment in just a few weeks or months - even for problems that traditional therapies often take years to resolve, or aren't able to resolve at all.
Meanwhile, for people with complex problems, or who are forced to live in adverse conditions beyond their control, longer-term treatment is also available.
How often will I be seen?
The answer to this question depends on your individual needs and the way your own therapist prefers to work. As a rule, however, most people can expect to begin their treatment with weekly visits. A few - particularly if they are in crisis - may begin with two or more sessions a week until their condition is stabilized enough that they can safely come only once a week.
What happens further on in treatment?
Again, the answer depends on how you are progressing, and on your therapist's and your own preferences. These are among the options that are often recommended . . .
· Individual sessions every other week or monthly, combined with weekly group therapy meetings.
· Individual sessions every other week or monthly, without participation in group therapy.
· A planned break of several weeks, followed by resumption of weekly individual sessions for a period of time.
· A trial termination of therapy - with the option of resuming if the need develops. Quite often, a follow-up session or phone contact is scheduled for a future date.
Do it when you need it, and not when you don't
In addition, most CBT practitioners subscribe to the principle of intermittent brief psychotherapy, as and when needed.
In this treatment model - espoused by Dr. Nicholas Cummings, a world leader in therapeutic advancement and former president of the American Psychological Association - you don't "go into therapy" and (like Woody Allen) stay for year after year, regardless of whether you're making significant progress or not.
Instead, you consult your therapist when there's a problem you need professional help with - and not in between. After all, isn't this sensible approach the one you follow with your physician, your dentist, your attorney or accountant, and all those other professionals?
The overlying purpose of all our approaches is that you learn to deal with any problem by yourself and contact us only in when you need to.