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Why is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy So Popular?

by Emma Bender

Why is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)  so popular with people seeking counselling? What are the limitations of this form of therapy? And is it suitable for you?

Is CBT therapy new?

Not really. It’s been around since the 198os. This was when cognitive therapy (focused on changing moods by looking at our thoughts) and behavioural therapy (looking at how thoughts effect our actions and choices) started to be combined.

In the UK, cognitive behavioural therapy really gained steam in 2005. This was when the government made a commitment to making psychological therapies more accessible.  They chose CBT therapy as their preferred treatment for depression and anxiety.

What led to this choice? And why has CBT had such a quick rise to one of the most popular forms of talk therapy on offer today? 

1. Accessibility.

A major factor behind the popularity of CBT therapy is its accessibility. Again, the NHS has put a focus on this psychological therapy. According to an article in The Independent, in 2007, the government earmarked a whopping £173m to train an extra 3,600 CBT therapists in the approach.

This led to an increase in health insurance providers covering talk therapies like CBT as part of their healthcare policies.

2. Rapid results and affordability.

As a focused, short-term therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy can produce relatively rapid results. This means it can be more affordable than more traditional, time-intensive therapies.

In his easy-to-read book Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dr Stephen Briers shows how the underlying principles of CBT can be mastered relatively quickly.

Courses of therapy following the CBT model can equip you with coping skills within a few months. The key principles are easy to understand and learn. 

3. A skills-based approach.

Because CBT is skills-based,  with techniques that can be used to tackle issues such as negative thinking? You learn skills that mean you can tackle your problems on your own.

CBT techniques, once learned, can be used by in the future to solve problems; They become life-long coping tools. You don’t have to risk emotional dependence on your therapist.

4. It’s proven to work by research. 

CBT is evidence-based (shown to be effective by research studies). Research studies provide strong evidence that this therapy is helpful in treating:

There is also some evidence to suggest is can be useful in treating bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anorexia nervosa, cocaine abuse, and sexual problems.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that CBT can be as effective as anti-depressants for many types of depression.  And the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends CBT should be the first approach treatment for mild and moderate depression. It should be followed by drug treatment only if CBT is unsuccessful in producing positive change.

5. It offers concrete results. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy seeks to measure the gains you’ve made. For example, during CBT, you will be asked to rate the intensity and occurrences of your negative thoughts. A person experiencing anxiety may be asked to rate the intensity of the anxious feelings from one to 10, thinking about the situation that makes them nervous.

If, during or after a course of CBT, you then repeat the exercise, and rate your level of negative feelings as lower? Then you have a concrete (if subjective) demonstration that you have undergone positive change. It can feel more scientific and reliable than other forms of therapy.

6. It can prevent recurrent episodes of depression. 

Almost 90 per cent of people that have suffered an acute depressive episode will face a recurrence of symptoms across a period of 15 years. (Nierenberg, Petersen & Alpert, 2003).

If stressful events arise in life? And feelings of anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings return? The skills learnt through CBT interventions should help you tackle them and keep them under control.

Is CBT Counselling a quick fix, then?

CBT produces faster results than some conventional therapies. But no form of talk therapy is a “quick fix”. They all require effort and commitment.

But given that CBT therapy provides you with tools you can use as self-help for the rest of your life, it seems a very worthwhile investment, if it’s popularity is anything to go by.

References/ Further Reading
  • All you need is cognitive behaviour therapy? Jeremy Holmes, 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122202/.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder – What CBT is and Why it Works William Meek, 2001 https://gad.about.com/od/treatment/a/cbt.htm.
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists  https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinformation/therapies/cognitivebehaviouraltherapy.aspx.
  • Depression, online factsheet published by Bupa’s health information team, April 2008. https://hcd2.bupa.co.uk/fact_sheets/html/depression.html.
  • Q and A with David Clark , professor of psychology at King’s College London and director of the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at Maudsley Hospital.
  • The Big Question: Does cognitive therapy work – and should the NHS provide more of it for depression? Jeremy Laurence Health Editor, The Independent.
  • https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-big-question-does-cognitive-therapy-work-ndash-and-should-the-nhs-provide-more-of-it-for-depression-1925439.html.
  • Nierenberg, A. A. Petersen ,T.J. Alpert, J. E. (2003) Prevention of Relapse and Recurrence in Depression: The Role of Long-Term Pharmacotherapy and Psychotherapy, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry Vol 64, 15 At https://www.psychiatrist.com/pcc/pccpdf/v05s09/v64s15.pdf.
  • Briers, S. (2009) Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
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