Updated: Oct 5, 2021
My first official experience of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was a group session around 8 years ago. My doctor had referred me to whichever external charity or group was supplying this therapy at the time and I was relieved to be getting some help having heard how effective it has been for anxiety sufferers.
The group was full of people who found particular situations worrying eg taking public transport or being physically unwell.
I felt I was different because I didn't know what I was afraid of. I felt terrified just about all of the time. I would lose my appetite completely which frightened me more so and meant having something else to deal with. I was in a constant state of fear.
The two young ladies conducting these sessions, over the next 6 weeks, were extremely friendly and demonstrated active listening superbly. As the group shared their worries and fears they would receive constructive and positive responses. We all had homework, tasks to do during the week and would then feedback at the next session. For me the sessions didn't feel like a good fit. When I was asked about a particular situation that caused concern I was flummoxed..... 'everything' was my reply. This wasn't well received and the young ladies in charge didn't really know what to say or do and kept trying to narrow it down to a specific situation.
I completed the course but felt I had gained very little. The fact that the course deliverers were just starting out in the world of psychology didn't help boost my confidence in what we had learnt. To be honest a book I had read about CBT had taught me the same if not more. Shame
During my training in PERSON CENTERED therapy I learned a bit more about CBT along with many other theories and styles of talking therapy.
Panic Alarm Call
My next actual CBT session came about 2 years later when I had hit crisis point again. The anxiety was so severe I was suicidal. Every morning began with a panic attack that could last for 20 minutes. Eating had become impossible and I was having to move in with my parents due to feeling constantly terrified. My doctor prescribed a different Antidepressant which brought great relief for a few weeks but then I was back to where I had been before, constantly afraid.
My GP advised me to self refer to the local Healthy Minds charity which provided CBT. I didn't hold out much hope but agreed to give it another go. In the meantime I was so desperate, I paid for private CBT just to give me something to focus on, a target to aim for every week. I was doing this to demonstrate to myself that I intended on being around at least until the next session.
I had a good rapport with my therapist and was able to keep enough of a hold on my thoughts to stop me acting on the madness in my head.
A few weeks later I received a call from Healthy Minds and arranged to see a young chap called Adam. The day of the first session arrived and I found all the usual thoughts and fears racing through my mind.
What if he doesn't like me?
What if he thinks I'm just being a wuss?
What if he says he can't help me?
What if he says I need to be Sectioned?
Adam appeared in a doorway and called me through to a small room. Inside was a couple of chairs, a flip chart and a table with a box of tissues at the ready should the client need to mop up tears.
I could feel myself shaking from head to toe and couldn't look Adam in the eye.
After talking me through all the safety and ethics of our meetings Adam asked me why I thought I was there.
I want to die
But I don't want to die
I want this stuff in my head and the dread in my gut to stop.
I'm so scared, can you help me?
Now Adam did something I wasn't expecting. He talked me through what could happen should I try to take my own life and to be honest I was shocked. He explained that often such attempts go wrong leaving the sufferer even worse off than before. Failed attempts could leave you with physical life changing injuries or leave you mentally damaged beyond repair.
Talk about shocked! In fact, it did what I think he had hoped it would do..... It scared me into kicking those suicidal thoughts and plans right out of my head and when they came back I denied them any time or energy.
After this initial chat Adam asked me if I had any questions so I jumped straight in at the deep end
Do you believe CBT will help me, cure me?
Adam sat back in his chair and smiled.
If I didn't believe in CBT I wouldn't be doing this job.
That's a relief.
I believe from that moment I was prepared to trust Adam and the therapy. It wasn't all plain sailing and I write about one particular hurdle we overcame in ' Figuring it out & gaining control or not.'
Adam set clear boundaries and wouldn't let me off the hook with anything that showed up.
What was incredibly powerful for me was Adam's use of imagery and positive visualisations. Taking situations and instead of catastrophising and seeing only a bad outcome I began to learn how to change the endings that my mind was throwing at me.
I did hit a wall quite early on. I struggled to trust what I couldn't feel. I couldn't find anything that lifted my low mood aka Sludge. I could tell my mind that hope was there but I was not capable of feeling it which lead to feeling guilty and ashamed.
Right let's press that reset button
Let's burst the black bubble you're in and let in some light.
*bemused look from Claire
I want you to think of somewhere you feel safe, safe and happy. If it's not a place it can be a person or perhaps a colour....
OK... I made need a minute or two. What if I can't..
Nope. Hear that 'what if' and drop kick it away
Close your eyes, take a deep breath or two and let your mind go find something safe
I sat for about a minute before blurting out an apology for taking so long. Adam reminded me this was my time and I could take as long as I needed. It took me around 5 minutes before one particular image came to mind. (This view I now see everyday from where I now live.) I could see the Loch where my partner lived and the amazing colours that can be seen at sunset or sunrise. As I enjoyed the picture in my mind apparently I smiled, ever so slightly, but it was a smile none the less.
Now that looks promising. I want you investigate every part of the image. Enjoy the colours. Imagine what you would smell if you were there. What can you hear?
This was the way forward for me. The beginning of creating a resource that stays with me now. In times of stress or crisis I imagine my safe place. The image changes but the sense of safety has grown into a piece of my wellbeing armour.
I continued to have weekly sessions with Adam for several months, which then decreased in regularity to the point of finally stepping out into the world armed with a complete wellbeing toolkit and the determination to be well and to be happy.
Finding a healthy way to deal with whatever you are struggling with can take time. See it like shopping and accept the fact that you may have to try a few approaches, therapists or coaches before you find one that's a fit, but whatever you do, don't give up!
Here is a link to MINDs website that tells you about CBT.