I have recently started attending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address my anxiety. I have not yet completed the full course of sessions, but thought I would write about my experience of CBT so far. CBT is different to counselling (which I have also tried) in the sense that it can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Counselling can also be useful as a means of expressing your feelings, however CBT is more practical and gives you a way of coping with those feelings.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first CBT session. It was less daunting than I had thought, I was given a questionnaire to fill in which is for the therapist to get a better understanding of your levels of anxiety and low mood. I fill in one of the questionnaires every week so there is a record of how those things change or improve on a week by week basis. The first session was mostly talking about what I feel are the most important issues to me right now, and what I would like to get out of the CBT sessions.
Each week, the therapist draws up an agenda of what we will talk about in that session, this is usually something we plan together so I know what to expect. The sessions are just as much about what I want to get out of them as they are about what the therapist thinks might be helpful for me, I find this makes it easier to feel relaxed because I feel more in control of the situation.
As a part of the therapy I am expected to complete ‘homework’ each week – which varies from week to week. I won’t go into detail of every piece of homework I’ve completed because it would make for a very long blog post, however the tasks have included keeping a diary of my activities for the week and rating these out of 10 for productivity and enjoyment, making notes each day of things I am grateful for and things I have done well. I was also advised to set aside just one hour a week to do something relaxing or enjoyable just for me (this is of course not limited to one hour, however if you find it difficult to relax sometimes, starting with just one hour makes it seem much more manageable.)
The ‘homework’ of setting aside one hour each week got me thinking about how sometimes we’re so focussed on the bigger picture that we forget how important little things are. It’s so easy to take things or people for granted without even realising it. Work can get on top of you, or there might be big stressful things going on in your life. Of course these things require our attention – work takes up such a big part of your life but it isn’t your whole life. Stressful situations can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to take a break from those things too and to give your mind a rest from nagging thoughts.
Another thing we have covered in the sessions is something called ‘tolerance of uncertainty.’ As an anxious person I find that I often need to feel ‘in control’ of certain situations to be able to feel calm, or I need to have all the details about something. Sometimes I want to know the outcome of something or know exactly what to expect from a situation. Sometimes if something doesn’t go to plan, or something unexpected happens, or maybe I say or do something that upsets someone it can send my anxiety into overdrive. The sessions I have attended so far have taught me that rather than increasing certainty of a situation I must start trying to increase my tolerance of uncertainty. This is of course easier said than done but by attending more sessions I hope that this is something I can improve on.
I hope that this very brief overview of my experience so far may help you to know what sort of things to expect from CBT if it is something you are considering for yourself. This is of course only my personal experience and therapy will look very different for anyone who attends. What is important is that you reach out and ask for help if you feel you are struggling. It can seem daunting to do so, but it is so important to acknowledge when you need a little extra help to deal with things.