CBT is based on cognitive theories that some mental disorders may involve 'faulty' or irrational thinking or perception.
For example, someone suffering from anorexia nervosa nay not be able to see himself or herself as too thin, even when they are extremely underweight. A person suffering from depression may blame themselves unnecessarily for things that have gone wrong.
Treatment, known as cognitive restructuring aims to train a person to think differently and, by doing this, to change their behaviour for the better.
The focus is on how the person thinks rather than acting directly on their behaviour (as with behavioural therapies).
There are several types of CBT:
The two most important ones to know about are:
- Rational emotive therapy.
- Stress inoculation therapy.
Ellis developed RET in the 1950s.
It is assumed that the person has persistent self-defeating thoughts that are unrealistic.
RET aims to challenge these thoughts by helping the client to recognise them and discuss them.
Clients are then taught to replace their 'irrational' thoughts with new, more constructive and realistic ones.
RET can involve very tough and challenging conversations between client and therapist.
'Homework' assignments for the clients to test themselves out between sessions are part of this approach.
RET seems to be successful in treating some types of social anxiety. Research suggests that it could be used for the management of anger and depression. It might even be useful in helping 'normal' people manage stress.
A major difficulty with evaluating RET is that it is difficult to define 'irrational thinking'. Psychologists cannot agree on this and RET therapists and their clients decide which thought patterns should be changed.
Meichenbaum developed SIT in the 1970s.
Like RET, this therapy aims to teach clients to replace self-defeating thoughts with more positive ones, and to practice this until it becomes a habit.
As it is called stress inoculation therapy you can see that it is intended as a way of training people to be able to cope with stress before it has become a serious problem.
SIT is used in many workplace situations to help people manage their jobs better.
In SIT clients are encouraged to think differently and taught new skills for dealing with various situations that they might find stressful. Clients then practice those skills to be prepared for them when a real situation arises in the future.
SIT is a sort of preventative treatment for stress-related mental disorders that have seriously damaging effects on people's lives. In this way it is an unusual therapy.