The CBT Cycle
Cognitive behaviour therapy is all about the relationship between emotions, thoughts (cognitions) and behaviour. CBT helps you to understand whether you might be stuck in vicious cycles that are getting in the way of living the life you want to live, and to discover ways to help yourself break those patterns.
A CBT cycle might include some of the following:
- Your past experiences shape how you view the world
- Your view of the world affects how you interpret a given situation
- Your mood affects how much you believe your interpretation
- Your take on the situation impacts how you feel about it
- How you feel influences how you respond
- How you respond has consequences
- How you are feeling affects your view of the consequences
- Which further impacts on how you feel
- And the outcome affects how you interpret similar situations in the future
- Which then impacts on how you feel...
- ... And the cycle continues
And here's the real kicker:
While all this is going on, your mind provides you with a running commentary on how you should think, feel and behave. Do you find yourself getting frustrated, ashamed or embarrassed about how you feel? Do your emotions spiral out of control quickly? Do you tell yourself you should have fixed this by now? Does it seem like everyone else can cope just fine? Do you find yourself feeling hopeless, destined to be this way forever?
Head Vs Heart
Do you feel like you know rationally what is best for you, but in the moment it just doesn't feel true? Do your instincts or gut feelings sometimes lead you down the path of repeated mistakes? Do you wonder if you should trust your logic or trust your emotions (and they do not agree with each other)? Cognitive behavioural therapy helps you make sense of that divide between head and heart. You will develop insight into how your experiences in life shape your understanding of yourself, other people, and the world around you. When you understand the source of your reactions, you feel more free to try out a new path.
You can choose whether you want to act based on how you feel, or based on the outcome you want.
Making Sense of Emotions
Is your instinct to avoid any and all unpleasant feelings? It's not surprising that we try to avoid negative emotions - they feel awful and sometimes it seems like they are completely uncontrollable. Did you know that these emotions can play a very healthy role in your life? Avoiding or shutting down unpleasant feelings is often the easier (and most comfortable!) option at the time, but you might find the emotions returning, more intense and harder to control. Suppressing your emotions is also not so helpful for achieving your long term goals.
Think back to your most satisfying achievements - did they come easily and emotion-free?
With the support of a CBT therapist, you can learn to accept your emotions rather than trying to shut them down. If you let them, your emotions can help you to learn from your experiences, to accept what you can't control, and to take action to move forward.
Break the Cycle with CBT
If you are finding it difficult to make changes on your own, you may benefit from seeing a CBT therapist. There are many hurdles that you may be facing, and CBT can help you to identify and overcome those hurdles. Here's how I think CBT may help:
- CBT can be used to understand why you think, feel and act the way you do.
- CBT asks you to consider whether how you feel is likely to change on its own
- CBT is helpful for challenging your assumptions about a situation by looking at it from a different perspective.
- CBT teaches you to test out changes to your behaviour.
- CBT encourages you to reflect on the outcomes of any changes you make.
- CBT doesn't blame you for feeling the way you do.
- CBT is about taking responsibility for making things better.
The guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends cognitive behaviour therapy as a treatment for depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia. NICE recommends CBT because there is so much research telling us it works. I recommend CBT because I see it work, everyday.