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Talking therapy - What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Dr Jana Jenkins explains all

Talking therapy - What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Research evidence endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) indicates that cognitive behavioural therapy CBT works effectively in treating depression and anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, health anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, long-term medical conditions, chronic fatigue and insomnia.
CBT looks at how we think about a situation and how this affects the way we feel and act.
When we feel low or anxious, we may think or behave in an unhelpful way, which exacerbates the intensity of our feelings and we may feel worse as a result. Therefore, changing the way we think and behave can have a positive effect on our mood.
Cognitive behaviour therapists help clients to identify unhelpful thoughts by asking them what is going through their minds. Many people are more likely to be aware of their mood and physical symptoms, rather than what they are thinking, while others are not attuned to their bodies, but can capture their thoughts and feelings.
CBT teaches clients to understand triggers and how thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms and behaviours interact with each other.
CBT also tends to focus on the here and now, instead of looking at your past. However, it is useful to make links between the past and present to help clients understand why they formed certain beliefs. For example, if you have been growing up with a critical parent or have been bullied at school, it is understandable that you may have a core belief that you are ‘not good enough’.
From my clinical experience, clients like CBT because it is practical and collaborative in reaching therapeutic goals. It involves homework assignments between sessions to maximise the effectiveness of therapy. For example, your therapist may ask you to keep a diary or do a behavioural experiment – such as asking you to test your anxious predictions about something you feel afraid to do.
The ultimate aim of CBT is to teach you how to become your own CBT therapist and work out your own strategies for tackling problems. It is designed to empower clients to have control over their difficulties.
You can find free CBT resources online – visit
Furthermore, CBT-based self-help books are available to purchase or borrow from your library.
It is useful to know that CBT can be used in conjunction with anti-depressant medications prescribed by your GP. I work with many clients who find both modes of treatment helpful.
If you feel that CBT may be helpful for you, discuss it with your GP who can refer you, or you can self-refer.

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