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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT for Anxiety; how does it work?

Dr Ryan lecture CBT for anxiety

This article will discuss how CBT can help you with anxiety. Other articles that shall help you understand and apply the principles of CBT include;

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion that results in uncomfortable physical feelings and fearful thought processes. You can read more about anxiety in detail in my guide. There are different ways to manage anxiety, and in this article, I shall discuss how cognitive behavioural therapy can help.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you understand the thought processes and behaviours contributing to your anxiety. Unlike other models of therapy that focus on exploring the past, CBT focuses on the present and helps you to change things that are occurring now that contribute to your anxiety.

How does cognitive behavioural therapy work for anxiety?

Cognitive behavioural therapy has been widely researched, shown to be effective and recommended by bodies such as NICE for treating anxiety. As such, CBT is the most commonly used talking therapy for anxiety.

The model is based on two therapies, cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. Combining these models allows CBT to work by changing what you do or do not do, such as avoidance (your behaviours) and your thought processes ( your cognitions.)

Read more on the principles behind CBT here.

The tenet of CBT is that your thoughts, not events, affect your feelings and actions. For example, if you have to give a speech, your fearful thoughts create anxiety, not the address. ; in other words, your thoughts can create anxiety. CBT helps you see the link between your thoughts and emotions and shows you how to change them.

If you decide to undertake CBT to help with your anxiety, you will be introduced to many techniques to tackle anxiety in all possible ways.

You will

  • learn about negative thought patterns and be taught about distorted thinking and how this contributes to anxiety.
  • Start exposure therapy to gradually introduce you to things or situations you may have avoided due to your anxiety.
  • Learn about and practice relaxation exercises not only to lower anxiety but as a tool to help you when starting behavioural experiments.
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Online course for anxiety.

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Benefits of using cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety

It is proven to be effective in treating anxiety.

CBT is a widely researched model of therapy and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety, as well as other mental health conditions.

NICE recommends CBT for the treatment of anxiety.

Studies show that CBT can effectively treat anxiety after as few as 8 sessions. 

It is a cost-effective treatment.

CBT is a cost-effective treatment option due to the structured nature of the model. It is a short-term model of therapy and has been shown to work, so in theory, you should not have to return and pay for more sessions. This makes it cost-effective if you have to pay for the therapy yourself or for employers or other bodies being billed for treatment.

Also, due to the nature of the model, it can be effectively delivered through self-help books, courses and online, not only adding to its cost-effectiveness but also giving the client more choice in how they wish to receive treatment.

It can be used to treat many types of anxiety disorders.

CBT is an accepted model of therapy for the different types of anxiety disorders, including 

  • GAD
  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety

Depending on your type of anxiety disorder, the model can be tailored to your needs. This is done through the homework that is part of CBT.

During homework, think of yourself as a scientist gathering evidence on your thought processes and behaviours before testing them and changing them.  

The data you collect on your thoughts and behaviours will be unique to you and your type of anxiety disorder, and your therapist will then show you how to change your beliefs or design behavioural experiments that will fit you.

CBT helps you healthily manage anxiety.

Many people feel anxious but do not seek treatment as they may have learned to cope with their anxiety using methods that do not help them long term.

For example. People may misuse alcohol when out socially to help them deal with their social anxiety or get into the habit of having a nightcap to help them sleep when anxious.

Others might avoid anxiety-provoking situations altogether.

Whilst alcohol and avoidance may help manage the anxiety at the time, they are not healthy coping styles as both hurt you long term. The drinking can get out of control, and you may miss out on things in your life due to avoidance.

For example, a client to see me therapy several years ago never put themselves forward for promotion, even though their boss encouraged them, as they did not want the stress of either the interview or the change if they got the job.

CBT helps you not just cope but get over anxiety without using crutches that are harmful, and the skills you learn can only help in all other aspects of your life. 

It can help people learn how to deal with their anxiety in the future.

When you fully understand what led to anxiety and, through behavioural experiments, see that you can handle situations that previously led to fear and anxiety, this gives you the confidence to manage stress-provoking problems in the future.

CBT can help you in other areas of your life.

Once you have gone through the process of CBT and understand how your thoughts and behaviours can either help or hinder you, this skill can be applied to many aspects of your life.

As a psychologist, I regularly use CBT not only to help people with anxiety but also to help improved their relationships or as a form of coaching to help with self-development.

The whole idea of CBT is to teach you to be your own therapist and make your therapist redundant. Once you have achieved this, you do not need to return and pay for CBT to work on other aspects of your life as you have already acquired the skills and can apply them yourself. 

Article information: All articles written by Dr Elaine Ryan

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image of a therapy session with Dr Elaine Ryan logo

Retrain Your Brain

Online course for anxiety.

Based on Dr Ryan’s private practice