Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy often used to treat depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as well as other conditions. Whilst I have a degree in Psychology, I am not a trained psychologist and this is written purely as an account of my personal experience as a patient tackling anxiety and OCD. I feel that there is a wealth of information about applying CBT, but little on what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the treatment.
It is natural to be nervous about attending therapy sessions, especially if you have anxiety problems like myself. My meetings were held in a relatively informal setting which helped alleviate this. There was no big desk or patient couch, just two chairs and a friendly therapist.
CBT aims to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours through repeated practice of more desirable thoughts and behaviours. Therefore the first session was spent identifying these negative thoughts or behaviours and thinking about which I wanted to focus on. I came away from it feeling positive and ready for the next session.
Subsequent sessions moved on to coming up with strategies for carrying out the more desirable thoughts or behaviours in order to overwrite the negative ones. Together we would decide a task to repeat that I felt would be challenging but achievable. Between sessions, which were weekly to start with, I would practice the task as much as possible. My tasks revolved around refraining from carrying out safety behaviours related to OCD. In all honesty I did find this hard work and stressful.
At the start of each following session we would start by discussing how the previous week had gone, both in terms of the task and in general. If the task hadn’t gone well then we would identify why and try to work out what could be improved. This could be discussing new techniques to employ, drumming up motivation or making the task a little easier. A good therapist will tailor the techniques to make them the most effective for you. For example, one of my therapists selected motivating reminders that would resonate with me personally and help me carry out my tasks during the week.
If the previous task had gone well then we would step it up a notch. At times I felt I was really struggling to make progress but by the end of two courses of sessions I had made significant headway. I felt the anxiety and OCD was no longer holding me back as much as it has done, but it was not fully cured. The challenge for me at present is to to keep making progress now that I no longer have regular support from a therapist.
Another route to go down is self help guides. I found them to be perfectly adequate for explaining the theory and techniques. However, you have to keep yourself motivated and I found I struggled to do this when my symptoms were at their strongest.
Ultimately, if you think you may benefit from CBT then I encourage you to speak to your doctor about it sooner rather than later and they can advise you what route to take. It’s far easier to nip it in the bud before it gets a strong grasp. The NHS provide free CBT is some cases, but even if you are eligible then be prepared for up to 6 months wait – another reason to go to the doctor sooner rather than later.
For further information I recommend: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx