In this article, I will discuss my personal experience with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), after being referred for feelings of anxiety and depression. But first, you may be wondering what is cognitive behavioural therapy, and who is it suitable for? The NHS states that “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave”. It’s recommended for the treatment of anxiety and behaviour, but also works for personality difficulties, alcoholism and other mental health problems.
In my case, I first went to talk to my GP about my symptoms (low mood, anxiety, crying a lot), which started after a sudden loss in my family. I knew that it was normal to feel different during the grieving process. However, several months later I was feeling worse and worse, and so it was time to seek help.
My GP recommended he referred me to a psychologist for a course of CBT, rather than give me anti-depression medication. She believed that a psychotherapist could help me better. And she was right. Just being able to talk to my psychotherapist, who was kind and empathetic, made me feel better over time. My psychotherapist gave me tools and tips to cope with my difficult thoughts and behaviours. He helped me break negative thought patterns, and also listened to me and how I was feeling, without judgement.
I was also given a handout so I could learn more about CBT. We did exercises in-session to help me understand why I felt the way I did. My psychotherapist also helped me see how my thoughts affected my behaviours. I was also asked to keep a daily ‘thought diary’, writing down what the thought was, how it made me feel physically/emotionally, and how I could approach the situation the next time this particular thought popped up in my head, for a more positive outcome. One tip which I still use today when I start feeling anxious or nervous about a situation is to ask myself. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Just writing down all the possible outcomes usually makes me realise the situation is not as bad I thought!
Cognitive behavioural therapy is unlike other types of psychotherapy. It is meant to be undertaken for a short period of time. If it is the right kind of therapy for your situation, you will feel the benefits quickly. Then, you will also be able to apply the strategies yourself long-term without needing to see a psychotherapist. That is a great thing about it in my opinion. Once you know the various ways you can cope with your negative thoughts and behaviours, you can then become your ‘own’ therapist. You will be able to apply those methods yourself. In my case, doing one session bi-weekly for 12 weeks meant that I had enough time to learn those various CBT tools, build a good rapport with my therapist, and see stable improvements over time.
There can be some long waiting times if you want to get CBT therapy in the NHS. But you can also get private CBT therapy from a psychotherapist without a referral from your GP. I would really recommend CBT if it is suitable for your problems.