CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, is a talking therapy. Whilst CBT cannot remove your problems it can help you to manage them in a much more positive way.
CBT is based around the concept that our thoughts, emotions, and actions are all connected and influence each other. This leads to the idea that our emotional reactions to situations are driven by the way we think about them, and that our emotions then go on to influence our behaviour and thoughts in turn. This can lead to people feeling or being trapped in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. CBT looks to address these vicious cycles in two ways – by looking at different ways of thinking (cognition) and different ways of behaving.
Our cognitive processes (our thoughts) encompass all of our beliefs, attitudes, models, and habits of mind. CBT is a way of helping you firstly to identify and understand your current thoughts patterns, and the emotional responses that these trigger. Secondly CBT will help you to recognise whether those thoughts are reasonable or useful, and to actively use more appropriate thinking styles instead. In turn these more realistic thoughts will prompt a more positive emotional state.
CBT also aims to help you change behaviours that might be unhelpful or actually harmful. For instance people commonly avoid situations that make them anxious – for instance someone with a fear of vomiting might avoid new foods, eating in restaurants and at other peoples’ houses, and social situations more widely, such as weddings and parties. Avoidance often becomes more extreme and intrusive over time, and start to affect peoples’ everyday lives. A behavioural approach to this would be “exposure therapy” where you would be gradually increasingly exposed to these situations. You learn at the same time practical ways to control your anxiety and learn to cope with the situation rather than avoiding it.
CBT differs from other talking therapies in a number of ways. Firstly it is concerned with the “here and now” of your problem, rather than looking at issues from your past. It is concerned with helping you to improve your current mental state and as such uses practical techniques around your thinking and your behaviour to help you achieve this. As such the sessions will follow an overall structure focused on your situation and the techniques that you will learn.
There is a host of evidence that CBT is effective in treating anxiety disorders (including in children), depression, chronic pain, sleep disorders, anger management, and alcohol misuse. Like all talking therapies though CBT is a process that you have to take an active part in, and where you will need to be committed to practising techniques and different behaviours outside of the therapy sessions, even when they are outside of your “comfort zone”.
Finally what does hypnosis add to CBT? It tends to make the initial improvements much more rapid, and to reduce the number of sessions that people might need, and it does this in two ways. Firstly it quietens down a lot of the internal dialogue or “self-talk” that people have about whether a technique will work, and so allow them to focus more quickly on learning the new techniques.
Secondly hypnosis also enables people to imagine and experience their future success in such a way that it feels much more realistic and achievable, allowing people to remain positively engaged throughout the whole CBT process. On further application of hypnosis is in “exposure therapy” where the use of guided visualisation enables people to be exposed to any situation or trigger, and in an entirely safe environment.
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