CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This type of therapy is used by psychologists and CBT therapists to help you with;
Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist
Page last reviewed and updated by Dr Elaine Ryan on
18 May 2020
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Cognitive-Behavioural interventions encompass a plethora of cognitive and behavioural approaches, such as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT—Ellis 1962) and Cognitive Therapy (CT—Beck 1976). David et al 20141
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.Hamlet
These are sage words, meaning that nothing is either good or bad, how you feel about a situation depends on your interpretation of it; the meaning that you give to it, this is why it is essential to work with your cognitions (thoughts).
Ellis’ ABC model.
A is the antecedent – the situation that triggers the response.
B stands for your beliefs, i.e. your thoughts about the situation.
C stands for the consequence.
When things go wrong in life, or you find that your mood is affected, we tend to blame the situation or event that happened before.
Ellis stated that it is not the antecedent (A) that makes you feel bad or gives a bad consequence (C), but rather you might interpret these events unrealistically and have an irrational belief system (B) that helps cause the consequences (C).
Example of Ellis’ ABC Model
Claire is on her way to meet a friend, but is stuck in traffic and worried she would be late. She is feeling anxious and angry at the other drivers who are keeping her late.
The activating event A is being stuck in traffic. Belief B is that she must be punctual to be liked. Consequence C is that Claire is anxious and angry.
The external event A is not what is making Claire anxious, nor is it the other drivers. It is the belief B held by Claire that she must be punctual at all times otherwise she is disrespecting the other person, and not only will they not wait for her, but they also will not like her.
Claire’s belief is what is known as an irrational belief.
Irrational Beliefs in CBT
“external events (A) do not cause emotions (C), but beliefs (B) and, in particular, irrational beliefs (IB) do”(Sarracino et al., 2017).2
Common irrational beliefs
I must be liked by everyone
I must be perfect in everything I do
I should always be treated fairly, the world should be fair
Anxiety, Shame Procrastination
Thoughts Feelings and Beliefs
Thoughts create feelings as you saw in the example above, I will be late, created feelings of both anxiety and anger in Claire.
Humans tend to run towards things that make them feel good and avoid experiences that they believe will make them feel bad, but as you are beginning to see, feelings are determined by cognitions (thoughts.)
Whether you are feeling happy, sad, disappointed depends on your interpretation of an event; your thoughts and beliefs.
I have a dog. When I see my dog, I feel happy. My friend does not want to visit as he is afraid of dogs, as he had a bad experience when he was a child.
The feeling has made him avoid dogs ever since. Is it the event that happened 50 years ago when a dog frightened him that makes him anxious around dogs?
According to the ABC model
“external events (A) do not cause emotions (C), but beliefs (B) and, in particular, irrational beliefs (IB) do” (Sarracino et al., 2017).
The initial incident with the dog is not the reason he avoids dogs today, but rather the belief he holds that ‘dogs will harm me.’
In this example, it might not interfere with his life too much as he can avoid friends houses that have dogs, but he will still feel anxious when he meets a dog outside.
It shall interfere more in your life if you are avoiding experiences such as shopping, meeting with friends etc. if you are thinking for example,
- I can’t meet my friends as I will say something stupid and they will laugh at me. Faulty belief systems maintain cases of social anxiety.
- I can’t go shopping as I will get anxious and panic.
Lets look at thoughts and feelings more closely
I did something bad and should be punished
I am worthless
I am a terrible person
I am inferior
All of the above thoughts can create feelings that you will want to run away from, and the result is avoidance.
It’s a vicious circle as behaviours can reinforce thoughts
- avoiding dogs reinforce the belief that dogs will hurt me
- Trying to do things perfectly all the time reinforces the belief that I must be perfect in everything that I do
Thoughts feelings and behaviours all work together; hence it is essential to work with both your thoughts (cognitions) and your behaviours ( the things that you do, or do not do, in the case of avoidance.)
How does CBT work?
- C is your cognitions, your thought processes and memories. How you talk to yourself inside your head
- B is your behaviour- things you do, like sleeping, eating, avoiding
- T is for therapy
CBT uses both cognitive and behavioural strategies
Working with the thoughts beliefs and attitudes that make you feel bad.
This could involve gently encouraging you into situations that you avoid, behavioural interventions to help with communication, changing perfectionist behaviours and introduce you to the idea of being good enough.
In working with your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, the model will not only help you to see your problems differently, but help you to actively change.
References and Footnotes
David, Oana & Matu, Silviu & Pintea, Sebastian & Cote?, Carmen Domnica & Nagy, Diana. (2014). Cognitive-Behavioral Processes Based on Using the ABC Analysis by Trainees’ for Their Personal Development. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. 32. 10.1007/s10942-014-0189-0.
Sarracino, Diego & Dimaggio, Giancarlo & Ibrahim, Rawezh & Popolo, Raffaele & Sassaroli, Sandra & Ruggiero, Giovanni. (2016). When REBT Goes Difficult: Applying ABC-DEF to Personality Disorders. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. 35. 1-18. 10.1007/s10942-016-0258-7.