Learning: more about cognitive behaviour therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is frequently used to help people deal with anxiety, depression, phobias, stress and other mental states but its basic philosophy and technique can be useful to people who are not necessarily having to deal with any of those problems.

You can find clear explanations of how it works on the Royal College of Psychiatrists site and at NHS Choices.

Over the last few years, CBT’s apparent ability to show evidence of its success has led government organisations, primarily the NHS, to promote (and fund) it to the detriment of other more established approaches to psychotherapy. These often appear to take longer and therefore, it’s claimed, are a less effective use of resources.

The main difference between CBT and other types of psychotherapy is its emphasis on the here and now. To put it colloquially, it doesn’t ‘drag up the past’. But it may be short-sighted in many cases not to acknowledge and deal with the role of past experience in a person’s current way of thinking and behaving.

CBT is right in assuming that the way we think about our lives, how we interpret events, is crucial. It’s more important than what actually happens to us. But this should point to the importance of our personal histories rather than to a technique which ignores them. It is the way we have interpreted what’s happened to us in the past that determines how we interpret what is happening to us now. Many would claim it is not realistic to expect to become more positive in our way of thinking without developing some self-awareness about why we now think about ourselves the way we do.

The consensus among psychotherapists is that CBT is about on a par with other therapeutic techniques in its “success” rate. Many would say that the most important thing is not the technique used but the therapist who uses it. But there are good reasons to think that the older approaches with their examination of past events in someone’s life do have something CBT lacks.