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How CBT Works

CBT (cognitive Behavioural Therapy) was originally developed in the 1960’s by Aaron Beck who argued that our internal dialogue (the voice inside our own heads) and rationales were more influential to our feelings than what we might ‘say’ out loud.

He recognised that the ‘way’ that we think about things determined our experience of ‘reality’ through our core ‘values’ and ‘beliefs’, many of which we will have ‘inherited’ throughout our early socialisation.

In other words, we each ascribe different ‘meanings’ to experiences depending on what our core beliefs are.

In this way Beck argued that we can change the way that we feel (our emotional responses) by changing the way that we ‘understand’, ‘make sense’ or ‘interpret’ our experiences.

He also noted that our thoughts affect our feelings, but our feelings also affect our thoughts, so it is possible to change the ‘way’ that we think by changing the way we ‘behave’!

These ideas led him to postulate the 5 key principles on which CBT is currently based in clinical settings.

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CBT Principle 1: There is always another point of view.

The human mind is perfectly capable of interpreting and organising inputs in different ways and in fact does so with an enormous amount of variety and subtlety.

What this means is that any given situation or experience can be thought of as having a wide variety of different meanings or significance, none of which is necessarily more ‘true’ than any other.

CBT Principle 2: Events don’t cause feelings.

It’s not what happens around us that makes us feel a certain way, but how we interpret those events.

We often claim that external events determine how we feel, but it is what we think those external events ‘mean’ that creates the reaction to those events!

For example, some people believe that the dark winter nights can MAKE them feel depressed.

Beck argued that it is what BELIEVE about the dark winter nights that results in the way that we feel – so believing it leads to experiencing it!

CBT Principle 3: We all develop unique ways of seeing the world.

Our ‘view’ of how the world works is unique to us and is not a true representation of reality, known as perceptual constructivism.

We have a tendency, as humans, to assume that if ‘we’ believe this is the ‘way the world works’, that other people MUST also see it that way. This is not true.

Democracy, for example, is often seen as the only truly ‘fair’ political system of governance and the West frequently try to ‘impose’ democracy on other countries.

However, democracy is only practiced by about 19% of the population and so, by definition, is a minority view!

CBT Principle 4: Mind affects body affects mind.

Cognition (thoughts) creates behaviours and feelings and feelings can give rise to thoughts!

So we can create new reactions and experiences by changing either our thoughts or our behaviours – this is why it is called ‘Cognitive’ (thinking) Behavioural (feelings and actions) Therapy.

CBT Principle 5: Our minds are scientific.

Our minds are constantly creating new theories and hypotheses leading to the creation of new ‘beliefs’.

Almost everything that we believe is based on the presence of ‘evidence’ that we use to validate our beliefs.

If our parents constantly told us we were ‘useless’ when we were young children, then we may summise that we have lots of evidence in support of our very low self-esteem.

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About the Course Author

Paul is an academic and practicing psychologist with both a BSc. (Hons) and a Master’s MSc. (Distinction) degree in Applied Psychology.

Master Psychologist Paul Lee

He has been offering clinical psychology and counselling to private clients along with a small team of therapists from the Tranceform Psychology offices in Wombourne near Wolverhampton since 2009.

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