Mastering your mind: A beginner's guide to CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected and can influence each other. This means that by changing the way we think and behave, we can also change how we feel.


In the context of anxiety, CBT aims to help individuals identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, which can contribute to anxiety symptoms. This is typically done through a process of cognitive restructuring, which involves identifying and questioning the validity of negative thoughts and beliefs, and replacing them with more realistic and adaptive ones.

CBT also involves behavioural techniques, such as exposure therapy and relaxation training, which can help individuals learn to manage their anxiety symptoms. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to feared situations or stimuli in a safe and controlled environment. This can help individuals to learn that their anxiety symptoms are not harmful and can be tolerated.

Relaxation training, on the other hand, involves teaching individuals techniques for reducing physical tension and calming their minds, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

CBT is also an effective treatment for depression, as it can help individuals to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their depressive symptoms.

In the context of depression, individuals may have negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves, the world, and the future. These negative thoughts can perpetuate feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, which can in turn lead to a cycle of negative thinking and behaviour.

Through CBT, individuals can learn to identify and challenge these negative thoughts and beliefs, replacing them with more realistic and adaptive ones. This can involve questioning the evidence for negative thoughts, considering alternative perspectives, and reframing thoughts in a more positive or neutral light.

CBT can also include behavioural techniques, such as behavioural activation, which involves identifying and engaging in activities that are enjoyable or meaningful. This can help individuals to break the cycle of inactivity and withdrawal that often accompanies depression and can help to improve their mood and functioning.

CBT is typically delivered over a series of structured sessions with a trained therapist. The therapist works collaboratively with the individual to identify specific goals and develop a personalised treatment plan. CBT can be delivered individually or in a group setting, and sessions may be conducted in person or via teletherapy.

Research has shown that CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, with many individuals experiencing significant reductions in their symptoms. CBT is also a relatively short-term treatment, typically lasting between 12 and 20 sessions, which makes it a cost-effective and accessible treatment option for many people.

CBT is a collaborative process that involves working closely with a therapist to identify the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your problems, and then learning new ways of thinking and behaving that can help you better cope with the challenges you're facing.

In CBT, you'll be an active participant in your treatment. This means that you'll be expected to engage in therapy exercises and homework assignments between sessions, in order to practice the skills you learn in therapy in real-life situations. While this may feel challenging at times, it can also be very rewarding, as you'll be learning new ways of thinking and behaving that can have a positive impact on your life.

CBT is a present-focused therapy, which means that your therapist will primarily focus on addressing the issues that are impacting your life right now. While past experiences may be explored to gain a better understanding of how they're impacting you in the present, the main goal of therapy will be to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours that are causing problems for you currently.

In CBT, you'll be exploring your thoughts and emotions in order to identify negative patterns that may be contributing to your problems. This can be challenging at times, as it may involve confronting negative thoughts and emotions that you may have been avoiding or suppressing. However, this process can also be very rewarding, as it can help you gain insight into why you're feeling the way you are and help you develop new ways of thinking about and approaching problems.

Through CBT, you'll learn new skills and strategies for managing your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. These skills may include things like relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, and assertiveness training. Learning these skills can help you better cope with the challenges you're facing and feel more in control of your life.

Finally, it's important to note that CBT is a goal-oriented therapy. This means that you and your therapist will work together to set specific goals for yourself and help you achieve them.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8
Written by Aaron Kelly, MSc, MSc, MA (Hons) MBACP
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8

Aaron Kelly is a psychotherapist who is deeply committed to helping people overcome mental health challenges and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Aaron is known for his compassionate and empathetic approach to therapy, working closely with clients to understand their unique needs and challenges in order to help them achieve their goals .

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