What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Developed by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck in the 1960s, cognitive behavioural therapy uses the premise that human beings create emotions by the thoughts that course through their minds as a starting point. A person’s emotions, moods and behaviour stem from their experiences and knowledge – in other words, their thoughts, belief systems, values and attitude.

Every human being creates his or her own world, in which the objective reality doesn’t count but rather what that reality looks like through the very subjective eyes of the beholder. Cognitive behavioural therapy is for example used in the treatment of depression, where clients have created a world in accordance with their negative interpretation of their surroundings – and now they find this world unbearable to live in.

Cognitive behavioural therapy for depression aims to widen a person’s horizon, to prize clients away from the narrow inner confines in which they have become trapped. Greater flexibility in a client’s outlook on life and the possibilities life holds for them are as much part of cognitive behavioural therapy exercises as creating a more positive self image.

Clients are encouraged – with the aid of a number of tools such as using art for example – to question their own negative self image and to work at it, so that it becomes a positive self image in the future and allows the client to break down barriers and avoid destructive, negative thoughts in the future.

The main features of cognitive behavioural therapy are: –

  • Acceptance of a person’s dependence on their thoughts and emotions; many clients see themselves as victims of circumstance, only able to react to impulses or events in an automatic way. Acceptance that a client’s own thoughts are responsible for their behaviour and feelings is an essential step towards autonomous self-determination.
  • Unearthing and recognising limiting belief systems and affirmations for what they are; most clients are totally unaware, how their own inner belief systems are responsible for sabotaging their potential for happiness. Cognitive behavioural therapy firstly works at a discovery of such destructive belief systems and finally helps to overturn them into positive beliefs.
  • Trying out new concepts of action; once limiting beliefs have been unearthed and replaced by constructive ones, this new knowledge must lead to practical consequences or, in other words, must lead to a change of behaviour. Clients are encouraged to develop new ways to conduct their lives, which up to that point where not within their scope.

Cards for Life are a popular tool for Cognitive Therapy. Find out how to use them in cognitive behavioural therapy.

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