Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might be the perfect solution for you. This article addresses what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is and why it is such an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, commonly referred to as CBT, is a fast, inexpensive and effective form of talk therapy that helps break the pattern of negative thoughts that lead to depression and anxiety. CBT is based on the idea that mood disorders such as depression and anxiety stem from irrational thoughts and that identifying and changing these distorted thought patterns can improve emotional symptoms. In combination with behavioural therapy, which is aimed primarily at modifying specific problematic or unwanted behaviours, clients learn the necessary tools to alternating negative behaviours with positive ones. CBT is based on short-term treatment sessions typically requiring 15 to 20 visits lasting for 50 minutes per session over the course of at least three months, making it a preferred method of treatment for clients over the past few years.
Characteristics of depressed and anxious individuals
Individuals dealing with depression tend to make a number of negative assumptions about themselves, the world, and their future. Over time, responses to unrealistic assumptions become automatic. For example, depressed and anxious individuals often have unrealistic thought patterns such as all-or-nothing thinking. For example, a depressed individual might think, “If I can’t make it to my friend’s birthday party then I’m a bad person.” An anxious person may think, “If I feel anxious in public places I must be an anti-social or an introvert.”
How can one manage these negative thoughts taking into consideration that each person has their own specific causes, triggers and patterns of depression and/or anxiety?
CBT is a structured form of therapy
CBT involves simple, structured exercises to change distorted thoughts and inappropriate behaviours. A main component of CBT is homework assignments so that clients can practice and reinforce what they have learned during therapy sessions in their everyday lives. For CBT to be successful, clients must be motivated and willing to put in the necessary work, both during and outside of the regular therapy sessions. By helping clients identify and change faulty thoughts and behaviours, CBT helps to alleviate depression and/or anxiety symptoms and eventually treats them completely.
The first step in cognitive behavioural therapy for depression and anxiety is to help individuals identify distortions in thinking. Clients are typically instructed to keep a written diary of any negative thoughts, sleep disturbances or bouts of intense unhappiness as well as when and where they take place throughout the day. This written record is a valuable tool because it not only helps clients understand how common their negative thoughts and behaviours are and what situations trigger them, but is also useful for monitoring improvements in their occurrence.
The second step is that clients learn to replace irrational thoughts with reasonable ones. Clients learn to ask themselves questions to test the validity of their thinking. For example, “Do my friends call me because they think they have to or do they call me and invite me out because they care about me?” and “Do I feel anxious when I get on an elevator because elevators are dangerous or do I get anxious because I have a false misconception about them?”
The third step is that clients learn to modify negative or unhealthy behaviours with more positive and healthy behaviours. For example, a depressed individual who stays in bed all day due to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness learns to get out of bed and engages in positive activities like exercise, meditation and making dietary changes to improve their lifestyle. An anxious individual who has a fear of being in public places makes an effort to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors after learning that a fear of public places is irrational. Those behavioural changes ultimately become the new, healthy and automatic way of living.
It is important to note that in mild depression, CBT is often effective on its own. In moderate to severe depression, it should be combined with the appropriate medication prescribed by a psychiatrist for more effective treatment. Severely depressed clients may be unable to do the work required for CBT; however once they improve, CBT may be a useful additional therapy to help clients over the long term.