Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy which is used to treat a wide range of mental health problems, from depression and eating disorders to phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
CBT works by encouraging new perspectives of ourselves and the world around us that could be useful for everyone in day-to-day life. But does the brain physically change when we have this talking therapy?
CBT is based on the idea that problems aren’t caused by situations themselves but by how we interpret them in our thoughts. These interpretations have an impact on our feelings and actions.
For example, if someone you know walks by without saying hello, what’s your reaction? You might think that they ignored you because they don’t like you, which could make you feel rejected. So you might be tempted to avoid them the next time you meet. This could increase the bad feeling between you both and generate more “rejections” until eventually you believe that you are an unlikeable person. If this happened with enough people, you might start to socially withdraw.
But how well did you interpret the situation in the first place?
CBT aims to break negative thought cycles by helping people spot problematic ways of reacting and replacing unhelpful thoughts with more useful or realistic ones. For example, did the person who just “ignored” you actually see you? Were they really just in a hurry?
Making sure your reaction is based on the evidence can be a challenge for people with mental health problems, as their thinking styles can be well-established. When someone is depressed or anxious, negative thoughts often persist, but more positive thoughts are easily forgotten.