Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) developed during the twentieth century from the joining of two complementary approaches: behaviour therapy and cognitive therapy. The behavioural aspect of CBT looks at the actions that inadvertently cause or maintain emotional distress and looks at helping to develop more helpful reactions. The cognitive element of CBT helps people to view the world in an alternative, more helpful ways by firstly recognising unhelpful patterns of thinking and then by looking at ways to think in more balanced ways. Cognitive therapy is not about simply thinking more positively; it is better described as developing more balanced ways of thinking.
CBT involves both examining and changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. The way we feel is influenced by our interpretation of events, in CBT we speak about the fact that our lives are very much what our thoughts make it. Epictetus famously said “people are disturbed not by events but by the view they take of them” and this is as true now as it was then!
The noise in the night anecdote below shows how thoughts feelings and behaviours are interconnected and how it is our interpretation of events that dictate how we react –
A woman is in bed one night when she is suddenly woken by a noise downstairs, startled she immediately fears it must be an intruder. How would she feel and what would she do? The conviction that it must be an intruder will create fear, and the urge to hide or scream perhaps. Now consider the exact same situation, only this time the woman remembers she has a cat and that the kitchen window was left open. How will she react this time? Assuming it is the cat will result in no fear, there may be some annoyance, and she may go downstairs to close the window. This example may be simplistic but it conveys the essence of CBT and how it is our interpretation of events that dictate how we think, feel and behave.