Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a therapeutic approach the emphasizes the links between our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviour. The idea behind CBT is that the situations we encounter may not directly affect how we feel. Instead, the kinds of thoughts we have in those situations often result in the emotions we experience.

For example, if I was talking to someone who kept looking over my shoulder, I might think a number of different things:

  • “That person finds me boring” – this might make me sad and lead me to end the conversation.
  • “There must be something exciting going on behind me” – this might make me curious and lead me to turn around.
  • “That person must be socially anxious and has a hard time making eye contact with me” – this might make me compassionate and lead me to try to make the conversation easier.

In each of these cases, the thoughts in the situation that results in my emotional and behavioural reaction. In CBT, you work with your therapist to develop strategies to challenge your thoughts and beliefs, and modify your behaviour, to help you feel better.

In terms of dealing with thoughts, CBT involves looking for evidence to see if your thought is accurate. If you think, “that person finds me boring,” what evidence do you have that this is true? The goal of CBT is not positive thinking, but to try and come up with the most evidence-based thinking.

You can also try to change the way you feel by changing how you behave. For example, instead of leaving that conversation, if you try to push yourself to stay in it, you may see that the conversation goes well. This increases your sense of accomplishment. Instead of feeling sad, you probably feel happy with yourself for sticking with it.

In CBT, you work with your therapist to develop these skills over time. But like any skill, it takes some time and practice. But over time, these skills become more automatic, providing you with more immediate relief from your anxiety or depression.