What is cognitive behaviour therapy?


Cognitive behaviour therapy is a
psychological treatment that is evidenced based, thoroughly researched, and has
a growing public recognition. Pick up any magazine, that discusses personal
issues and more often than not cognitive behaviour therapy will be mentioned as
a therapy that can really work.

What is cognitive behaviour therapy?

Cognitive behaviour therapy is
interested in two areas: how you think about yourself, the world, and other
people and how your behaviour (actions) affects your thoughts and feelings.

The therapy can help you to change
how you think (your cognitions; i.e thoughts) and what you do (behaviour).
These changes can help you to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking
therapies, it focuses on the “here and now”. Rather than focusing on the causes
of distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve how you feel

When does cognitive behaviour therapy help?

Clinical research, including a 2000
study undertaken by Aaron Beck and Andrew Butler and colleagues, proved that
the therapy can help with many different types of problems, such as anxiety,
depression, panic, worry, phobias, stress, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis. Cognitive
behaviour therapy may also help if you have difficulties with anger, a low self
esteem or health problems, like pain or fatigue.

How does it work?

The therapy can help you to make
sense of overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts. This
makes it easier to see how they are connected and how they affect you. These
smaller, more manageable parts are:


1.     Situation
– a problem, event or difficult situation which acts as a ‘trigger’

2.     Thoughts
–and/or images

3.     Emotions

4.     Physical
feelings -symptoms

5.     Actions-

Each of these areas can affect the
others. How you think about a problem can affect how you feel physically and
emotionally. It can also alter what you do about it. There are helpful and
unhelpful ways of reacting to most situations, depending on how you perceive

For example:

Situation:     You’re in bed at night and hear a noise

        Unhelpful         Helpful

Thoughts:     It’s someone breaking in!         I
wonder if that’s the dog/ dryer/neighbour



Feelings       Scared, anxious, panicky          Curious

Physical:      Palpitations, sweaty, nauseousNone
– still relaxed


Action:         Hide under covers/ call Police/grab nearest large object            Check out or get partner to investigate/
ignore and turn over


This is a situation many of us have
experienced. Isn’t it interesting that the same situation can lead to two very
different results, depending on how you think about the situation? Therefore,
what you thought has affected how you felt and what you did. In the example in
the left hand column, the person jumped to a conclusion without very much evidence
for it – and this mattered because it led to uncomfortable feelings that may
have affected the rest of that night, and actions that would have continued the

Therefore, what we think, i.e how
we interpret (or misinterpret a situation!) relates directly to our emotions,
our actions and how we feel physically.


Cognitive behaviour therapy can
help to break this vicious circle of altered thinking, feeling and behaviour.
When you see the parts of the sequence clearly, you can change them – and
therefore change the way you feel. Cognitive behaviour therapy aims to get you
to a point where you can “do it yourself”, and work out your own ways of
tackling these problems. Not to be confused with positive thinking, or positive
affirmations, The therapy is concerned with the evidence behind the legitimacy
of the thought and helping the client identify new ways of thinking.

The therapy very much sees the
client as the expert; you have the answers and the therapist is helping you to
learn new tools to use long after the last session has finished.

What’s the downside?

Cognitive behaviour therapy isn’t
for everyone, and some people prefer a more traditional counselling approach.
To be effective, the therapy requires the commitment of ‘homework assignments’
outside of the session; for example keeping a record of your thoughts and
trying out a new plan called a ‘behavioural experiment’ which you would have
negotiated in the session.

How can individuals access cognitive behaviour therapy?

The Employee Assistance Programme
has a qualified and accredited cognitive behavioural therapist. For more information
or to schedule a confidential appointment call, 949-9559 or visit www.eap.ky.