MENTAL HEALTH A-Z: C is for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: three, fairly large words,that sound absolutely terrifying when strung together. Especially that last word, ‘Therapy’. There is a lot of stigma associated around the world of therapy. I feel that to many the necessity of therapy implicates that there is something terribly ‘wrong’ with you and that you need someone else to help you fix it. This isn’t the case at all.

Needing therapy, of any sort, does not lessen you as an individual; on the contrary I think that anyone who attends any form of therapy is brave and strong and quite frankly everyone could do with a bit of the old therapy here and there!

Cognitive behavioural therapy however, is not your standard sit in a room with someone and pay them a fortune to discuss your issues and solve them, kind of therapy that seems to be the general view of therapy. It is in fact not even advertised as a ‘cure.’

CBT is a method of learning to look differently at the world around you and to address your concerns in a different manner.  If you are a sufferer of anxiety, for example, CBT can aid you to change the manner in which you view certain issues that affect your day-to-day life.

Here’s a little scenario:

You’re a fresher at University and have what can only be described as crippling social anxiety to the extent where attending a social event with…strangers of all people, seems so daunting that you instead decide to make a little nest of duvets and pillows and watch a film. In your head, the notion of speaking to strangers is terrifying; there are a lot of questions going through your mind. What if everybody ignores me? What if they don’t like me? How do I even go about approaching other people?

If we haven’t already guessed I was absolutely terrible last year at doing social things, I can confirm that I was indeed extremely apprehensive of going to things alone and being out of a well established comfort zone. This wasn’t helped by the fact the one time I decided to go to an event alone it was absolutely terrible and I felt incredibly unwelcome and that was that. With my anxiety well and truly confirmed and established, I never went again. It is still to this day one of my worst University experiences. In hindsight I wasn’t really trying to talk to anyone. So I know I didn’t help myself, but at the time the idea of approaching a group of people that already knew each other and got on was too much for poor little me to deal with. This is probably why I only have about two friends this year!

However back to the story:

A year ago I saw meeting new people and doing new things as petrifying and tended to avoid those kind of situations unless someone I knew already was accompanying me, for some reason I was absolutely fine then! My brain is a strange wilderness that I shall never truly understand.

Now, however, I’ve learnt to look at those kinds of situations as positive opportunities to meet new people and experience new things instead of assuming that I will almost definitely not enjoy myself. If I don’t then at least I know not to go again and to try something new.

This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s a method of changing your outlook on situations, to promote dealing with anxieties or other issues in a much more positive light. Once you escape the vicious cycle of negative thoughts such as: I have no friends, if I go and meet new people they might not like me, I won’t go out, then, back to good old square one: I have absolutely no friends, it becomes a lot easier to see all aspects of life with a much brighter perspective!

However CBT doesn’t stop at treating anxiety – it extends unto all manner of issues! It’s been proven to help people deal with the symptoms of IBS and phobias. I’m now sat here pondering if somebody can help me see spiders as friendly little eight legged creatures instead of hairy monsters that will absolutely definitely try to eat me.  Kudos to Lord of the Rings for that happy idea! Pretty confident I will never like spiders though, that many legs is just unnatural.

Another issue it addresses is insomnia. Now, a while ago I was having some difficulty sleeping and got an e-mail about a ‘Get a good night’s sleep’ seminar. I signed up for it because it was free and well, why not?

The short of it is that I believe I was hypnotised by a man with an incredibly soothing voice and ended up falling asleep in Blenheim Terrace. Obviously I was a room with other people and we were indeed all asleep but it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life!

Since then I have learnt it was an example of cognitive behavioural therapy! We had a little group discussion about why we all struggle sleeping and the one common issue throughout the group was stress. And stress about stress. Then stress about not sleeping because of stress about stress.

Although I never used the hypnotherapy method again it was incredibly useful to have someone clearly explain to me and help me to realise the root of my issue. As soon as I understood the reasons behind my sleeping issues and the fact I wasn’t alone in them, I started to concentrate less on the negatives and learn to see my life in a different, happier way. My sleeping pattern gradually grew better and better and now I sleep like a baby. All thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy!

It can’t remove your problems by any means but I believe in its ability to help dealing with them in a constructive way.

Cognitive behavioural therapy isn’t scary or anything to be ashamed about; it doesn’t mean anything is drastically wrong with you if you happen to attend a session, as apparently it is possible to do it accidentally. It’s a way of helping people view the world in a positive light and improving every day one step at a time!

Becci Fell

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