Mandy Kloppers

How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can improve your mental health

Cognitive behavioural Therapy can improve your life – I am proof of this. An inauspicious start was on the cards for me. My parents divorced when I was young, my childhood was lonely unsettled and I had no confidence whatsoever.

I embraced all the negativity aimed at me by my parents and internalised those messages. I believed every word my parents told me and felt utterly worthless. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped me to challenge those early message and build a more balanced of myself.

You will be more self aware

Cognitive Behavioura Therapy encourages you to be more aware of what you are thinking. Your thoughts create your reality. Thoughts lead to emotions and these emotions lead to behaviour. You can break the cycle, especially when there is self sabotage using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

You learn to challenge your thinking

Instead of automatically believing every thought you have, CBT aims to adapt your thinking into a more realistic format. You are encouraged to ask yourself regularly, “Where is the evidence for this thought?” The simple act of being aware of your thoughts rather than automatically ‘living’ them can help immensely. Detaching from your thinking (known as cognitive defusion) allows you a greater perspective on reality.

You learn to tolerate uncertainty

Life is uncertain, that’s a fact. There are no guarantees and the only way to deal with this is to increase your tolerance of uncertainty as it is impossible to increase certainty. Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches you to accept uncertainty by inviting more uncertainty into your life. Ironic..yes.. In Cognitive behavioural therapy, we refer to the “anxiety equation”. Anxiety emerges as a result of two things – we overestimate the threat (if I get into a relationship, I will get hurt; if I take that job I will fail etc) and we underestimate our ability to cope.

You create behavioural experiments to test out your thoughts

Imagine that one of your beliefs is that if you are assertive and say “No”, people won’t like you. That’s a thought that might lead to anxiety. As a result you spend your life never saying no in an attempt to escape the reality of no one liking you. However, you are buying into a thought as it may not necessarily coe to be that everyone dislikes you when you say “no” to them.

So, with your Cognitive behavioural therapist, you will create a behavioural experiment. During the next week, you will find an opportunity to say “no” to someone. It could be your spouse, a colleague, a stranger – which ever you feel would be the easiest. Before you carry out the experiment, you need to write down what you think will happen when you say “no” and the emotion that leads to. You then carry out the behavioural experiment to see what actually happens.

Nine times out of ten, the perosn you said “no” to won’t hate you forever. Even if you do get the unlikely negative response you anticipated, you will realise that it wasn;t as bad as you anticipated. This is the beauty of behavioural experiments – they challenge your existing thinking nicely and open up a channel for a change, for psychological flexibility.

CBT teaches you to be calmer and to take less notice of intrusive thoughts. It has certainly worked for me. Sure, I get my down times but they don’t last as long as they used to. I am usually able to talk myself out if it. If I can’t, I know that the feeling will pass and hunker down in the meantime. Sometimes, acceptance is the key to getting through the tough times. You can’t always talk your way out of feeling low (especially if you are clinically depressed) but acknowledging that the stories in your head need not to be taken too seriously adds a lot of comfort.

Mandy X

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash