CBT on the NHS and how it helped mePosted on: Dec 05, 2018
Back in September, I wrote a blog called ‘Things I’ve done even though I was afraid’, after attending a vision board workshop with Shelley Wilson. I wrote it because at the time, I was really struggling with an endless loop of negative thoughts that seemed to be sucking up all my courage. I wrote it because I needed a reminder that despite fear, I’ve still achieved things.
The blog had a lovely reaction from my friends, both online and IRL, with some commenting that they had no idea I was struggling.
That old ‘brave face’ is so damn easy to wear.
I also mentioned that I was on the waiting list for CBT, to which there was also a surprising reaction. So many of my friends have had it! Some privately messaged me to share their experiences and to check how I was getting on. Some asked me what it was as they’d never heard of it.
What is CBT?
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and has been used for years by the NHS to help treat anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. It’s called a ‘talking therapy’ as you go through a series of worksheets and exercises to help manage your negative thoughts. Unlike counselling (which I had after my mum died) you don’t just sit there and pour your heart out, it’s more prescriptive and you even have homework to do!
How did I get it?
Like most people with these kinds of problems, I thought I could handle it myself. I put my low mood and anxiety down to the stress of moving house, the day to day demands of self-employment and even delayed grief.
It was only after a tearful confession to two close friends that I realised enough was enough.
The other problem was, I didn’t want to rely on my GP for a referral. I never went to the same doctor twice and didn’t feel they enough about knew me or my background, and getting an appointment was always a chore.
Luckily one of those friends was able to advise me that I could self-refer through something called IAPT, which stands for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, and does exactly what it says on the tin! I called a helpline (not an easy step but a very necessary one) and they arranged for an assessment call. After which they said I was a good candidate for CBT.
They offered several options: completing a course online, going to group sessions or seeing a therapist one-to-one. I went for the last option and luckily, it was only down the road in Sydenham.
How does it work?
I was gently warned by a few people before starting CBT that it’s not a miracle cure, but rather a toolbox of coping strategies. But I was instantly encouraged by one of the first sheets the therapist gave me, which simply had a list of different types of ‘unhelpful thinking habits’, for example ‘mind-reading’ (assuming we know what people are thinking about us) and ‘compare and despair’ (something I think we’re all guilty of on social media!).
That one sheet of paper was like instant validation: what I’m thinking is totally normal and even common.
For me, the biggest indicator of success was in the homework I had to do.In between sessions, the therapist asked me to write down any negative thoughts and encouraged me to challenge them, using the strategies we’d practiced.
In the first couple of weeks I found it easy to write down the thoughts, there were plenty to choose from! Towards the middle of the sessions I was starting to struggle to think of any. It was like someone had turned off the tap that was constantly dripping doom (dramatic metaphor but you get the picture!)
At the end of each session you fill in a scoresheet that helps to indicate how anxious or depressed you are, answering questions on a score of 0 to 3. In the first sessions I was scoring highly for both – by the last session I was putting ½ for most of the answers.
Seeing that evidence of progress written down in black and white was a real boost.
Let’s be honest, 6 sessions are not going to change the habits of a lifetime. I’m feeling good now, but life can always throw you a curveball! So in the last session we talked about possible scenarios in the future that could lead to a recurrence of the negative thought spiral, and how I could deal with them.
We also wrote down my personal takeaways from CBT that I can refer back to, along with self-coaching forms that I can work through on my own.
In short, CBT has really helped me. If you think it might be suitable for you, check out the links below: