How is CBT fast-acting?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that can help patients achieve positive results and start feeling better relatively quickly. But what does this mean in concrete terms – and why does CBT work this way? It’s all down to the fact that it’s action-based, so right from the first session you’ll be equipped with specific understanding, tools and techniques that you can put into practice straight away.
When we think about talking therapies such as counselling, it’s easy to imagine that treatment needs to involve a process of exploring issues and talking about the past in order to get to the bottom of the problem. This is certainly a key part of many types of therapy, but with CBT it’s not essential to go through that ‘forensic’ process before you can move forward. In other words, you don’t need to understand the root cause of a problem to start making changes which improve it.
CBT is a talking therapy, but it’s very much based in the here and now; the issues you’re currently experiencing, the situations you’re finding difficult, and how you’re thinking and behaving today. It focuses on giving you practical tools and strategies that can be implemented in your daily life, before the next session.
For example, if you worry a lot and get headaches as a result the therapist might teach you a relaxation technique to practice. Or if you’re bothered by negative thoughts you might come away with a new understanding of how to evaluate and challenge them. If you want to be more assertive with your boss, you can ‘rehearse’ the approach you plan to take with other people first.
During each CBT session you’ll learn to do something differently, or gain a new or increased understanding of a problem. You might need to practice for a while before you feel the full benefit – the same as you wouldn’t be able to play a piece of music perfectly following your first piano lesson – but many people do find they begin to feel better quickly.
This is because the therapist will help you prioritise your difficulties, and recommend actions that can make the biggest difference to you early on. These are often focused on directly tackling the pattern of behaviour that maintains the problem you’re having. For instance, if you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and you stop going out in the evenings in the winter, this can make you feel worse and withdraw further into your shell. You can challenge and address this ‘vicious cycle’ by making changes to your behaviour and thinking.
This doesn’t mean you won’t get the opportunity to explore the underlying cause behind the issues you’re having, however. If you and the therapist agree together that it’s useful and relevant to delve in deeper to try to figure out where the problem came from, this is absolutely an option. But the real unique value of CBT is that it gives you the ability to walk out from a session and do something that’s helpful right away.
High quality online CBT is as effective as face-to-face treatment. You’ll also benefit from being able to message your therapist during the week, between sessions, to ask questions and get help with overcoming any obstacles you come across. This can help to accelerate the progress you make, and improve your outcome.