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What CBT really means, and why it can help us all to live a better and happier life

We’ve all heard about CBT, and some of us might know that it stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But what on earth does that mean, and why has it got so popular? Lee Brosan, one of the authors of The Complete CBT Guide for Depression and Low Mood, shared with us what CBT really means, and why it can help us all to live a better and happier life.

So what is CBT? 

Imagine that you are walking along the street and a cool young man you know walks past you without saying hello. How do you feel? Humiliated? Amused? Both these (and many more feelings) are possible, but what makes the difference? CBT says that it’s the way that you thought about why he didn’t say hello that counts. If you thought ‘oh no, that’s so awful, he must be desperate to avoid me – he must think I’m an awful hanger-on’ then you might well feel humiliated. If you thought ‘oh poor guy, he must be so hungover from last night he can hardly see straight’ then you might feel amused, or even sympathetic.

The next important thing is that your behaviour will probably be different according to what you thought. If you thought he was ignoring you on purpose then you might avoid talking to him, just to make sure that he can’t reject you again. But then he might feel rejected (especially if he didn’t see you), and might actually stop talking to you. If you thought he might be colossally hung over, then you might say ‘isn’t it awful being hungover?’ and laugh with him about it – so your shared experience might strengthen your friendship. So the way that we think, and thus the way that we behave, can lead to very different consequences – in this case a broken friendship or a strengthened one.

Thinking and depression

When people are depressed then their thinking tends to become more and more negative. In this example, they’d think ‘it’s not just him who wants to avoid me, no-one likes me and they never will, and it’s not surprising because I’m so boring and useless.’ It doesn’t take much to realise that if you think that, you are likely to feel pretty low and depressed.

What can CBT do to help?

CBT has a massive range of things to try, which essentially fall into a number of different areas:

  • Helping people to recognise when they are having unnecessarily negative thoughts (sometimes the external situation is truly difficult but even so the thoughts people have can vary a lot)
  • Showing people how to question their thoughts so that they know if they are fair and realistic or not
  • Helping people to be aware of the impact of their thoughts so that their behaviour doesn’t make things worse

And the amazing thing?

The reasons that CBT is so popular are that it can make a huge difference to how we feel when we’re depressed, anxious or emotionally disturbed in other ways, and because all of us can benefit from being more aware of our thoughts and behaviour, and how they affect our feelings and our lives.