Throughout he pages of this website you’ll find a treatment option caled Cognitive Behavioral Therapy mentioned a great deal. Commonly referred to as simply CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is regarded as one of the most effective forms of treatment for anxieties, fears and phobias. As such it’s worthy of a full explanation into exactly how it works. We promise to keep it as simple as possible!
Having a mental illness is never an easy thing. It is extremely debilitating in many cases, and moderate cases can make day to day activities challenging for those who suffer from anxiety, fears, and phobias.
But fortunately, there is help out there. Symptoms can be manageable and can even be treated for many mental health issues, especially anxiety and phobias. In fact, phobias have the highest likelihood of a positive outcome when given the proper treatment.
And one of the most effective and widely used treatments for anxiety and phobias is Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT.
Cognitive Therapy (as it was originally called) is not that new – it’s actually been around since the 1960s. The pioneer was a by Dr. Aaron T. Beck who was, at the time, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. In this article, we’ll talk about what CBT is, how it works, and why it’s an effective therapy for the treatment of anxiety, fears, and phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a form of talk therapy or psychotherapy. It is a form of psychological treatment that has been shown to be effective in a wide range of mental health problems, such as depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping and eating disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse problems, addiction, phobias, marital problems, and generalized anxiety disorders.
The aim of CBT is to identify and recognize maladaptive thought and behavior patterns, and in its place, create healthier coping mechanisms through realistic thought patterns. The premise of CBT is that situations or events do not affect your thoughts and behaviors per se, but your anxiety or phobias are caused by your perception of the said event.
For example, you have an irrational fear of spiders. You see a spider and your body suddenly goes into a panic. Your heart rate increases, you sweat profusely, and you can’t move. But has the spider harmed you? Is the spider coming to bite you? The presence of the spider itself gives you anxiety but not what it has done. Therefore, your own reaction or perception of the spider is the problem, and not the spider itself.
In CBT, a counsellor or therapist will help you process your thoughts and recognize that they may be problematic or maladaptive. You will then work together to form new thought patterns that are healthier and more realistic. For example, the next time you see a spider, instead of going into a panic, you can analyze the situation and realize that the spider is not harming you, so there is no need to feel scared. You can either kill the spider or move away from it.
CBT focuses on changing your cognition or your thoughts. When you change your thoughts, you can also change your emotions and behaviors in relation to your object of fear.
CBT works in conjunction with a therapist. It is more than just talk therapy as it is a mostly collaborative therapeutic approach. Not everyone will respond the same way to CBT. it is not a magic pill that will remove all your anxieties and phobias without you doing the work. You and your therapist will have to create your own methods in dealing with your mental health issues, and you will also have to make sure you apply them in your life.
CBT helps patients become their own therapists. In situations where you usually have anxiety, you are given tools to manage your emotions and thoughts, and therefore, reduce or eliminate your maladaptive reactions to the situation. It takes several sessions for CBT to have a significant effect on your mental health problem. It usually takes about 20 sessions for most issues, and typically, by the 5th session, you will already see an improvement. But it all depends on how much you do the work and how willing you are to get better.
There are 3 core principles to CBT, and these are:
1. Psychological problems are partly based on faulty ways of thinking.
2. Psychological problems are partly based on learned patterns of maladaptive behavior.
3. People can learn healthier ways of coping, and one of the most effective ways one can achieve is, is through CBT.
There are also 3 goals of CBT, which are:
1. Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are causing emotional distress.
2. Gaining a better understanding of the situations that bring about emotional and mental distress.
3. Learning to develop better and healthier ways of thinking so situations do not bring about emotional distress.
Basically, CBT works by helping you perceive situations in a more realistic and healthier way. When you’ve learned better coping skills, events that have caused you depression or anxiety will no longer have the same debilitating emotional results.
A large amount of research has proven the effectiveness of CBT in the treatment of anxiety disorders, phobias, fears, and panic disorders. The therapy has been shown to improve the lives of anxiety patients, making it one of the most widely used therapies for this mental health problem.
What are phobias? Phobias are irrational fears of an object, place, person, or situation. It is diagnosed when a person is exposed to the object and the patient responds with anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, a strong desire to escape, or inability to move or think normally. The anxiety becomes so intense that it disrupts normal functioning. But fortunately, phobias are highly treatable, and CBT has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for phobias, along with Exposure Therapy.
Numerous studies on the treatment of phobias with CBT have shown that people who undergo a short course of CBT experience significant improvement by about 80 to 90% in showing signs of remission by the 10th session.
CBT eliminates the anxiety response by providing healthier behavioural techniques to help patients face their fears without anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling of intense emotional discomfort which drives people to avoid the feared stimuli. This can include common fears such as big crowds, flying in a plane, public speaking, heights, and other fears. Some people feel anxiety without knowing the stimulus. In general, anxiety is defined by avoidance. You don’t want to feel emotional discomfort, so you avoid your source of fear.
Those who have a fear of heights avoid going into tall buildings or crossing bridges. Those who are afraid of flying would rather drive to get to places or avoid travelling altogether. Those who are afraid of social gatherings avoid attending special occasions.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States but sadly, only about 37% of people seek treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association in America.
Research has shown CBT to be an effective treatment for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. It is, in fact, the most widely and most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders.
Studies have shown that CBT can be an effective treatment for anxiety in as little as 8 sessions, with or without medication.
Some of the techniques used by therapists in CBT include the following:
This is the process of replacing negative thoughts and feelings with ones that are more realistic and helpful. It involves recognizing maladaptive thought patterns and acknowledging that these are causing the patient emotional distress.
This is the process of considering things from other angles and using realistic evidence to create your thoughts. It is a way of challenging your own toughest by considering objective perspectives.
Patients are usually instructed to write down their negative thought patterns outside of therapy sessions. Whenever they face an anxiety-provoking event, they are recommended to write their emotions down, and then identify if these emotions are valid depending on real evidence or invalid depending on negative thought patterns.
Once the patient gets back into a session, the therapist and patient can dissect and discuss what happened, what negative thoughts occurred, and what the patient can do to challenge the thoughts and adopt healthier ways of reacting.
Relaxation techniques can help reduce emotional distress when faced with an anxiety-provoking stimulus, such as an object, insect, person, or situation. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and allow patients to think more clearly.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy of CBT is the most widely used treatment for anxiety, as well as fears and phobias. It is a form of talk therapy that involves a patient and a therapist and can be applied on its own or in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as medication or other forms of psychotherapy.
What makes CBT so effective in the treatment of anxiety and phobias is that it helps patients learn how to be their own therapists. It takes work for CBT to result in a significant reduction in anxiety, as patients need to challenge their own cognition or thought patterns. Homework is usually given outside of sessions, and it requires a level of commitment on the part of the patient when it comes to learning new ways of healthier thought patterns.
Though a successful CBT treatment may take about 20 sessions or more, patients have been known to significantly improve symptoms by the 5th or 8th session. Patients may respond differently to CBT but when all conditions are favourable, CBT can successfully reduce or treat anxiety, fears, and phobias completely.
Many patients with anxiety and phobias do not seek treatment. But information and knowledge on CBT just might make them change their mind or finally get the help they need.