Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT for short) is a form of psychotherapy, which has been proven to be extremely effective for treating depression and anxiety. Being a person whose beliefs are based on evidence rather than religious doctrines or new age conjecture, CBT strikes a very strong chord with me and it has been extremely effective in helping me in the past. Many studies have been carried out and it has been found that CBT can be more effective than drugs in relieving depression and anxiety. The NHS officially recognises it as an effective treatment. The basic principle of CBT is summarised in its name; Cognitive (meaning thinking processes), Behavioural (meaning the way we behave) and Therapy (meaning treatment). Numerous studies have revealed that our feelings and emotions are affected by the way we consciously think and behave. So even if we have major emotional problems caused by deep subconscious issues, we can make ourselves feel better simply by consciously thinking and behaving in positive ways! Now isn’t that a powerful concept?
Now, in the second paragraph of chapter 1, didn’t I say that positive thinking was useless? Well, in a word, no. There is a world of difference between being told to snap out of it and be more positive and applying proper positive thinking techniques. For a start, the positive thinking part of CBT does not tell you to snap out of it and be positive. It simply asks you to try out some positive thinking techniques, but without the expectation of instantaneous results. Applying conscious positive thought to change the downward spiral of cycle of negative subconscious thought takes time. It is like chipping away at a granite block with a chisel, rather than applying dynamite to it! So how do I apply positive thought to my situation in a realistic and effective way? Well, it is not possible to cover everything about CBT in this short book, as this is an emergency handbook outlining all possible techniques and tips I know that may be able to help you. There is a wealth of information available on CBT techniques and there are plenty of psychotherapists offering CBT therapy and I would certainly recommend giving it a go. In this summary book I can only provide some basics.
I view CBT as an engineering approach to thinking. CBT attempts to rationalise your thoughts through logic and evidence. When you are ill, you have strong negative downward spiralling thoughts. These thoughts are invariably exaggerated, illogical and unrealistic, but you get caught up by them resulting in extremely harmful and negative emotions. For example, you get made redundant. You start thinking that you are too old to get another job, or that nobody will employ you because you will not perform adequately in an interview. All your money will run out, you will get into debt, your house will be repossessed and you will have nowhere to live. Your wife will leave you and your children will disown you because you are such a loser. Before you know it, you will be sleeping in doorways and begging for scraps of food. You are going to die of starvation, so you may as well end it now to save all the heartache! This is an example of what we call “catastrophe thinking”, which is very common in people suffering with depression. In reality, the likelihood of the catastrophe scenario is vanishingly small. In the example quoted, by far the most likely scenario is that you will get another job quite quickly and all will be well.
By analysing the irrational thoughts associated with catastrophe thinking, and challenging these thought patterns with evidence-based positive rational thought, you can often stop the downward spiral or a particular thought process in its tracks. Basically you use positive conscious thought to rationalise the situation and tell your negative subconscious thoughts and associated subconscious emotions where to get off! Do this enough and your positive conscious thought will win out in the end.
Another aspect of CBT is by using physical behaviour to influence your emotions. Now it is clear that your emotions affect your physical behaviour. If you are feeling sad or dejected for example, your face and your body language clearly indicates this. Your face looks sad, your head goes down, your shoulders slump, your voice sounds sad. So emotions definitely affect the way you behave. But this isn’t a one-sided situation. Believe it or not, your physical behaviour can affect your emotions. In this example, you could force yourself to pulling your shoulders back, lift your head, attempt to put on a brighter face, and actively try to sound happier. Now I know what you are thinking. This is all phoney, it’s just an act, it’s not real. Well, you are right in a way, it is a bit of an act. But it actually works. You can and in most cases force yourself to feel better. It is immensely hard work, but with the right attitude you will be rewarded. It is based on the principle that many motivational books and life coaches use. By acting like the person you would like to be, you are actually making progressive steps towards being that person.