4 Myths about CBT

MYTH 1:  The ultimate goal of CBT is to shift negative thoughts to positive ones.

CBT does focus on challenging negative thinking patterns and for this reason many people believe  clients are simply invited to think positively about their problems. CBT actually encourages people to take a realistic look at their lives and explore more flexible, helpful ways of thinking. If a client has negative thoughts about a situation, they may well be right. Their job may  be very difficult or they may have a challenging health condition. CBT helps people identify, accept and embrace both pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and feelings and try to find alternative, more helpful ways of coping with life’s demands.

MYTH 2: CBT isn’t interested in deeper causes. It’s all “surface stuff.”

A common misconception about CBT is that it isn’t interested in deeper rooted problems. However, while many clients will improve by working solely with how they think about current events, CBT therapists will often work directly with client’s long term negative beliefs (rather than just their present negative automatic thoughts) and part of this inevitably involves childhood historical events in order to understand where these beliefs have come form. 

MYTH 3: CBT is a rigid, mechanical approach designed to simply retrain the brain.

While CBT has many tools in it’s tool box, people’s individuality is not ignored. In addition to the mainstream version of CBT originally developed by Ellis &Beck in the 1950′ and 60’s, CBT now includes a range of approaches developed to treat different types of psychological, emotional and behavioural problems. Some of these include:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
  • Compassion Focused Therapy
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
  • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Schema Therapy

MYTH 4: CBT is ‘quick in, quick out’.

While some problems may be treated in as few as 6 sessions, CBT is not particularly ‘quick in quick out’. The outcome research for CBT typically assumes 12 to 15 sessions on a weekly of fortnightly basis. This can represent the better part of a years work and is typically longer than many forms of counselling.  Therefore, CBT is more accurately described as a medium term psychotherapeutic modality.

In summary CBT teaches clients how to convert personal insight into tangible improvements in dealing with distress, solving problems, improving relationships and changing behaviour. It is orientated to helping people to manage problems and live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.



By Judging Others Are You Really Judging Yourself?

We all have our own set of values and while this is very positive, there’s also a risk we can become over-enthusiastic and expect others to behave a certain way. However, is there a single way to live life or view the world? Could you be limiting your personal growth and enjoyment when you expect others to live according to your rules?


Equally, if you’re hard on others, the chances are you’re also hard on yourself and your self-esteem and happiness suffer.

Life is simply more enjoyable when we accept others and ourselves.

Use these strategies to remove your expectations and be less critical:

  1. Become aware of critical thoughts both towards yourself and about others. We can’t help these thoughts – our minds automatically produce them. However, if we are aware of them, we can evaluate if these thoughts are fair. If they aren’t fair this is your cue to change your thought process. Monitor your thoughts and remind yourself to be more reasonable with yourself and more open-minded with others.
  2.  Pause for five seconds and take a deep breath. In most cases you’re safe until you voice the thought. When you find yourself feeling judgemental, stop and take a short pause. You’ll interrupt your thought pattern and give yourself a chance to think before you say something you might regret.
  3. Try and understand that all of us, including yourself, are doing the best we can. That’s not to say that everyone is living up to their potential. But everyone has their own unique past, tragedies, upbringing, health issues, and way of viewing the world. Faced with the same experiences, you can’t be certain you could do any better.
  4. Try and avoid stereotyping. There are CEOs with tattoos and wonderful parents that may work in the sex industry. Do you really believe you can judge someone based on a couple of characteristics or facts?
  5. Carefully consider whether the characteristic you complain about in someone else is something you could be working on yourself. For example, do you find yourself criticising someone who exemplifies confidence and strength as haughty or arrogant? Is this because actually you wish you were more self-assured and assertive? Ask yourself is this something I could work on myself?
  6. The past doesn’t have to equal the future. We all make mistakes. Understand that we can learn from our errors. It’s not fair to judge yourself by your greatest mistake or to judge others by theirs. Do our greatest mistakes really provide an accurate view?
  7. Try and let go of your expectations of others. If you expect others to live by the same rules you will set yourself up for disappointment. 
  8. If you have a habit of buying in to your critical thoughts about yourself and others, you’ll get more out of life if you can reverse this tendency. This is a great opportunity to be patient and understanding with yourself. The people that annoy us can often teach us a lot about ourselves. 
  9. Finally, make an effort to learn more about someone you don’t like and you might find that your first impression was incorrect.






For many of us, the New Year is the perfect time to start improving our lives by, exercising more, becoming vegetarian, volunteering, or other resolutions. Given the difficult year that has just passed, we may feel even more of an impetus to take control of our lives and really think about what we want for the coming year. This is a good thing.

However, for many of us resolutions either never really get off the ground or tend to tail off rather quickly. Unfortunately, 80 percent of us will fail by February – this can be because we are telling ourselves the things we want to do less of – eat less junk food, watch less TV. This focuses our attention on what we are doing wrong and is quite self-critical and punishing which doesn’t lead us to feel inspired or motivated. Resolutions are also hard to keep at any time of the year if they involve unrealistic or vague goals. To be successful, we need a SMART approach.



approach refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time scaled. For example, applying the SMART approach to one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions – exercise more – would look like this:

  • Specific – It’s not enough to say you will exercise more. You need to be specific: “I will cycle for an hour three times a week.”
  • Measurable – Now you’ve set a specific goal, you need a way to measure your progress as you move toward a larger goal. For example, “I will measure progress using a cycling app.” 
  • Achievable – Can you achieve this goal?  Setting a goal of cycling 60 miles a week from the outset may not realistic or healthy – especially if you haven’t exercised for a while and will result in you giving up or getting frustrated. Aim for an attainable goal that fits in with your other commitments.
  • Relevant – How is your resolution relevant to your life and goals for the coming months?
  • Time framed – Give yourself a time frame for your goal. How many miles do you aim to build up to and by when – months? A year?

So your SMART New Year’s exercise resolution would be, “Because I want to improve my physical fitness I will cycle for an hour 3 times a week, aiming to cycle 20 miles per session by the end of the year.


  • Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t set yourself up for frustration and failure with too many resolutions. Concentrate on your number one priority. The rest will come in time.  
  • Take small steps. Make a step-by-step plan. For example, instead of becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of cycling 60 miles a week focus on three miles at a time. Taking small steps will help you stay focussed and on track – and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • Reward yourself for small success. Don’t wait until your goal is reached to give yourself a pat on the back. If your New Year’s resolution is to cycle 60 miles a week by the end of the year, reward yourself when you reach three, five, 10, 15 and 20 miles.
  • Be kind to yourself. You’re only human and things will happen that will temporarily derail you. Learn from the situation, shrug it off and focus on tomorrow.
  • Create a support system. It’s easier to exercise on a regular basis if you have someone waiting there for you or when the whole family is trying to improve their health.

Challenging Anxious Thoughts

As businesses and schools begin to open again, many of  you will return to the workplace for the first time in months.  As a result anxiety and overwhelming fearful or negative thoughts may begin to present themselves. These are uncertain times and it can be difficult to stop the repetitive thinking that often accompanies this stress. However, acknowledging and recognising these thoughts for what they are, and being able to challenge them, may help you work through some of that anxiety. Here are a few different types of these thoughts, called cognitive distortions, and suggestions on how you might challenge them:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, or “every”.
  • Overgeneralisation: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events.
  • Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives: Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
  • Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence.
  • Catastrophising: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.
  • Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.
  • “Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way.
  • Personalisation: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control.
  • Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.

Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:

  • Do I have evidence that this thought is true, or not true?
  • Is there a more realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • How likely is it that what I’m scared of will actually happen? What are some more likely outcomes? Am I overestimating the threat.
  • Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this worry?

Additionally, you may try saying the following statements to yourself as a way to  take the edge off the anxiety.:

  • This is temporary.
  • One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time.
  • Just because I feel anxious at this moment doesn’t mean in reality things are worse.

11 Top Tips for Exam Success

Do  you remember the anxiety you used to feel before school exams? Maybe you’ve recently taken an exam yourself? While many teenagers are able to cope with this stress, research shows that up to 20 to 40 %  feel so anxious they struggle to focus and lose valuable marks in their exam. The very thing they were so worried about becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Help your teenager with the following tips:

  1. We are rarely motivated to revise – suggest they decide to do something for just 10 minutes. Once started they’ll find they are more motivated  to carry on.
  2. Encourage them to plan a realistic timetable in advance and don’t forget to make sure they schedule breaks.
  3. Make sure they organise regular rewards eg. watching a favourite TV show.
  4. Let them know about apps which can block social media while they’re revising eg. SelfControl or Cold Turkey.
  5. Support them to have regular breaks – tell them their brain will be much more productive for it.
  6. Teach and get them to practice a breathing technique to use before and during the exam if anxiety starts to increase. Breathe deeply to the count of 4, breathe out slowly to the count of 4 and pause for 2 seconds before breathing in again.
  7. Encourage them to schedule regular exercise, eg a brisk walk while listening to their favourite music.
  8. Our minds can be inundated with negative automatic thoughts which come into our minds without us wanting them to, eg – “I will fail”, or “I’ll be so nervous I’ll forget everything”. Tell them this is normal BUT they are only thoughts NOT true facts and they don’t have to believe them. Support them to practice challenging these negative thoughts with realistic alternatives. For example, to imagine themselves in the exam room and being able to answer the questions and to say more realistic things to themselves, for example, “ I will revise regularly and try my best”, or “ I have done well enough before, I can do well enough again.”
  9. Remind them that a small amount anxiety is normal and will help their brain work more efficiently during the exam.
  10. Recommend they resist the temptation to go through answers with friends afterwards – this usually creates MORE anxiety and worry, which definitely isn’t what they need if they have more exams ahead!
  11. Finally, tell them not to forget there is life beyond revision and exams and how life will be when the exam season is over.

Children are often anxious going back to school. Here’s some tips to help them.

  • Chat about school in normal everyday conversation but keep it light and positive.
  • Accept , validate and normalise their feelings about school. It can be especially difficult after a school holiday or sickness, eg. “Your right, it can be nerve wracking going back to school after a break. I bet there are lots of children who feel the same way.”
  • Plan some fun and interesting things to do in the evenings and weekends to give them something to look forward to and remind them that school is only a part of their week.
  • Try and have regular family feedback time which makes it normal for everyone to share their worries from the day as well as the fun things that happened. You can role model this by telling your child about things which have happened for you, eg “Two people in the office are leaving this week and I feel sad about this.”
  • Teach them a simple breathing technique and let them know how useful you find this yourself.

Winter Blues – are you SAD?


Winter Blues – Are you SAD?

During the winter  some of us notice we don’t feel so good. I know I often feel more lethargic and find it’s hard to get out – especially in the evenings when it’s dark by five o’clock. How often do you hear you or your friends say “I dread the winter” or “I hate these short days.”

Some of us really suffer during  the winter months – in fact, recent stats suggest about 3 people in every 100 have significant winter depressions. Known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD for short), this has a lot in common with depression and includes;

  • feeling tired all the time
  • wanting to hibernate
  • feeling sad
  • lack of interest and enjoyment in life
  • low energy and motivation
  • being less sociable

Common complaints made by people with SAD are, just how difficult it is to get out of bed in the mornings, how often they feel sleepy throughout the day and how hard it is to resist the endless cravings for chocolate and high carbohydrate or sugary foods. It’s with good reason many people complain of weight gain during these winter months.

Cognitive behaviour therapy and SAD

Research has shown that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for these symptoms is effective and that  improvements in mood can be  long lasting over future winter seasons. Also you don’t need to suffering to the extent of SAD in order to benefit from these CBT strategies.  If you find yourself more fed up than usual, feeling lethargic and lacking motivation, CBT can help.

Specifically, CBT explores thoughts, feelings and behaviour and their impact on each other. Because motivation and energy levels are so low, people with SAD understandably reduce their activity levels, which in turn reduces mood and energy levels further, turning into a vicious cycle from which it’s hard to escape.

While many illnesses need rest and recuperation,  the opposite is true If you want to alleviate the symptoms  of SAD. If you find yourself stuck in these vicious cycles, meeting weekly with a CBT therapist can help.  This can help you to develop strategies to increase motivation, identify and incorporate enjoyable activities into the day and to recognise, challenge and change negative thoughts. Where you are an expert in your own experience, a therapist can bring skills and knowledge of psychological processes that have helped others struggling to overcome SAD.

If you find your mood’s not so good over the winter months the following strategies may help:

  1. Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible for example take a walk during daylight hours.
  2. Keep active.
  3. Eat regular meals.
  4. Remind yourself the days will start getting longer again in  the New year.
  5. Schedule regular time to see friends.
  6. Tell family and friends so they can understand and be supportive.
  7. http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/depression.asp provides an excellent CBT self-help guide for depression.