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CBT - An Introduction

What is CBT?

CBT stands for "cognitive behavioural therapy", an approach to helping people to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions and make changes in their life.

It rests on the basic idea that how we think about events, situations and peoples influences how we feel about them and how we act.

What Can CBT help with?

CBT is particularly helpful for dealing with negative or distorted thinking patterns which are often involved in issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem or assertiveness difficulties. However, you don't need to suffer from extreme anxiety or depression in order to benefit from using CBT techniques! Unless you always think perfectly logically and sensibly and never make mistakes, the chances are that you will be able to find a use for CBT in your life, if only as a way of helping you to put into perspective situations which you have a strong emotional reaction to or beliefs that aren't justified by the evidence. In many cases the effects from using CBT techniques can be highly beneficial for you and your state of mind.

Who invented CBT?

There are a number of different but related approaches which could be called 'cognitive behavioural' approaches. However, the two people most commonly referred to as the seminal influences on the development of cogntive behavioural therapy principles and techniqes are Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck.

Albert Ellis

In the mid 1950s Albert Ellis, an American pscychologist, developed rational therapy (subsequently renamed rational emotive therapy or rational emotive behaviour therapy) in part due to his dislking with the ineffectiveness of psyhoanalytical therapeutic techniques. Ellis' new approach operated by enabling clients to change self-defeating beliefs through helpoing them to see the irrationality, inflexibility or self-defeating nature of some of their beliefs. REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) is a form of CBT.

Ellis's approach was influenced by the thinking of ancient Greek philosophers such as Epictetus who held that:

'Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.'

Ellis formulated the ABC Model of emotions which analyses the development of emotions in the sequence: Activating Event - Belief - Consequent Emotion.

Example of the ABC Model

A simple example of an analysis using the Ellis ABC Model of Emotions might be:

(1) Your friend disagrees with something you say (Activating Event)

(2) You think: 'S/he thinks I'm useless' (Belief)

(3) You feel angry or upset or hopeless (Consequent Emotion).

If you can start to change your Belief 'S/he thinks I'm useless' then this will help you to feel better about yourself and your prospects. This kind of insight is what Ellis' ideas and subsequent CBT techniques are built upon.

Aaron Beck

Dr Aaron Beck developed 'cogntive therapy' in the early 1960s working as a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. beck had studied and practised psychoanalysis. Seeking research validation for the theories of psychoanalysis he conducted research to test psychoanalytical concepts of depression. To his surprise he found that the research results did not validate the psychoanalytical concepts! So he started to test and resesarch alternative methods. Working with patients who were depressed, he found instead that they often experienced negative thoughts which appeared to occur spontaneously, for which he coined the term 'automatic thoughts'.

Types of Negative Automatic Thought

Beck observed that patients' automatic negative thoughts tended to fall into three types:

A. Negative thoughts about themselves

B. Negative thoughs about the world

C. Negative thoughts about the furture.

Beck, like Ellis, realised that if you can help people to change or modfiy their negative thoughts in realistic ways then you can help them to feel better about themselves and to to have more constructive views about their live and options.

CBT is not the same as Positive Thinking!

It is important to realise that CBT is not the same as positive thinking. It is about developing more realistic and balanced ways of thinking not about telling yourself you are brilliant at something if you are not or that you can achieve something if you cannot!

The cognitve aspect of cognitive behavioural therapy rests on the view that distorted or exaggerated thinking patterns can lead to problems for you practically and emotionally. CBT aims to help draw attention to any such distortions or exaggerations and to help you to think in a more realistic way.

For a description of a CBT technique that you can try out for yourself, go to:

Balancing Thoughts - CBT Exercise



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