Whether you’re having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) face-to-face, online or over the phone, you’ll be asked to fill in symptom questionnaires before each session. Perhaps you’ve wondered why you need to do them every time. You might even find completing them a bit tedious! In this blog, we’ll explain what these questionnaires are, and why we have them.
The questionnaires you’ll be given as part of your CBT treatment are designed to look at the different symptoms of common mental difficulties, and find out how you’re being affected by them. Your answers won’t be used to diagnose the specific difficulties you’re having, but rather to help your therapist to build up a picture of what you’re experiencing.
What do they look like? Whether the questionnaires are sent to you online or given to you as a printout, the format will be similar. You’ll be asked to read a series of statements, and click or tick in a column to indicate how much that statement has applied to you over the past week or two weeks. Statements will describe possible symptoms, such as ‘Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much’ and ‘Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge’.
What are they for? Completing the questionnaires enables the therapist to find out:
- how often you experience the symptoms
- how mild, moderate or severe your difficulties are, and
- how distressed you are by them.
The reason we ask you to keep filling them in throughout your treatment is that this helps us track how you’re progressing. This is important because CBT is a goal-based short term therapy, and we need a way of measuring your progress towards the goal.
Seeing your progress can be really motivating. It can also highlight when something might need to be done differently; if your scores have been ‘stuck’ at the same number for a few sessions, for example, you and your therapist can have a conversation about why this might be and discuss what could work better.
Are there different types of questionnaire? There are general questionnaires that all CBT patients are asked to complete, which measure symptoms of low mood and anxiety, and explore how much your difficulties might be impacting your day-to-day life.
We may also ask you to fill in an additional questionnaire that looks at the specific difficulty you’re working on. For instance, if you have social anxiety you may be asked to complete the SPIN (social phobia inventory) questionnaire.
All CBT questionnaires are based on standardised and academic ways of measuring patients’ progress which are required by the national IAPT programme, which many CBT practitioners are a part of. This helps the programme make sure CBT remains an effective treatment.
How should I approach them? When you come to fill the questionnaire in, try to use your gut feel – but do think about each answer as well. For example, if you’ve had a bad couple of days you might feel like scoring high against some of the statements, when that actually only reflects how you’ve felt most recently. Think back over the time since your last session, and how often you’ve really felt like that. Don’t agonise over the questions though, as this won’t be helpful!
If you record your symptoms day by day this will make sure your answers give an accurate picture of how you’ve been doing. Reviewing your record just before a session is a good habit to get into, to prepare and help you get the most from your therapy time. For example, you might realise your sleep has got worse, and you can ask to discuss this with your therapist.
If you have any difficulties with filling in the questionnaires, or find that they provoke anxiety, please do talk to your therapist and they’ll be happy to help you find the best way to complete them.
You can read more about what to expect from online CBT here.