Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a short-term, problem-focused form of behavioural treatment that helps people see the relationship between beliefs, thoughts, and feelings, and subsequent behaviour patterns and actions. Through CBT, people learn that their perceptions directly influence their responses to specific situations. In other words, a person’s thought process informs his or her behaviours and actions. Cognitive behavioural therapy is not a distinct treatment technique; rather, it is a general term which refers to a group of therapies that have certain similarities in therapeutic methodology. The group includes rational emotive behaviour therapy, cognitive therapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy, for example.
Cognitive behavioural therapy involves much more than just sitting and talking about whatever comes to mind. This structured approach ensures that the therapist and the individual in treatment are focused on the goals of each session, ensuring that the time spent in therapy is productive. The person in therapy benefits from a collaborative relationship in which he or she is able to reveal personal issues without fear of judgment and is helped to understand the issues at hand without being told which choices he or she should make.
CBT techniques incorporate many different therapeutic tools to help people in therapy evaluate their emotional patterns and states. CBT therapists may employ common techniques such as:
To reinforce the therapy, homework (such as practical exercises, reading, or writing assignments) is completed by the individual in treatment, outside of the scheduled time for therapy. Homework is a crucial aspect of many CBT treatment plans and challenges the affected individual to continue working independently, even after therapy comes to an end.
The cognitive behavioural process is based on an educational model where people in therapy are helped to unlearn negative reactions and learn new, positive emotional and behavioural reactions to challenging situations. By breaking down overwhelming problems into small manageable parts, and then setting and reaching short-term goals, the therapist gradually adjusts the way the person in treatment thinks, feels, and reacts in challenging situations. Changing attitudes and behaviours can help people learn to address specific issues in positive and productive ways.
Rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis in 1955 and originally called rational therapy, laid the foundation for what is now known as cognitive behavioural therapy. REBT is built on the idea that how we feel is largely influenced by how we think. As is implied by the name, this form of therapy encourages the development of rational thinking to facilitate healthy emotional expression and behaviour.
“People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.”
Often, ways of thinking ingrained in our brains at an early age or resulting from painful or traumatic events continue to subconsciously influence our behaviours and perceptions into adulthood. REBT seeks to reshape these core beliefs in those experiencing a wide range of mental health conditions, thereby enabling them to live full, satisfying lives free from unnecessary psychological distress.
For example, say an individual feels continuously plagued by feelings of rejection. Rational emotive behavioural therapy might uncover that he or she harbours the following belief: “I am an outcast. Nobody likes me.” As a result, this person is likely to interpret a number of everyday occurrences in a negative light; a downcast expression seen on another’s face or a lack of positive feedback from a colleague becomes a direct reinforcement of that core inner concept. Naturally, this triggers a negative emotional response and increases the likelihood of depression, social anxiety, antisocial behaviour, and/or low self-esteem, among other manifestations of the “nobody likes me” belief.