CBT for Stress

CBT combines both the cognitive and behavioural approaches to psychology to provide a treatment for many things, in this case stress. It is based on two assumptions. 1) Abnormal behaviour is the result of thinking traps e.g. catastrophising, black or white thinking and an all or nothing attitude and 2) Behaviour can be learnt ,thus it can also be unlearnt CBT sees behaviour as the result of a stimulus and a thought. So a stimulus is present in the persons environment, for example exams, a faulty thought or cognition occurs like ‘I don’t know anything!’ and this causes an abnormal behaviour like throwing your revision guide at someone. CBT believes that by changing these faulty cognitions to healthier ones the behaviour will change as a result.

In stress this form of therapy can be broken down into two sections – hardiness training and stress inoculation therapy. There are three stages to SIT – Stage 1: Conceptualization – The therapist and client explore how the client views and copes with stress Stage 2: Skill acquisition & rehearsal – This can be broken down into two types: Direct action and Cognitive Coping. Direct action is physical coping skills e.g. knowing an escape root in a stressful environment or breathing techniques. Cognitive coping is training the client to think differently e.g. ‘I can cope’, ‘If I miss my deadline my life will not be over’. The client rehearses these until they’re comfortable.

Stage 3: Application – The therapist puts the client in stressful situations, starting off small e.g. revising for an exam and gradually increasing the stressor like sitting an A level exam when the client feels comfortable to move on And the other type of CBT is hardiness training – Teaching people to identify the physical responses to stress such as increased heart rate or rapid breathing Reconstructing stressful events and deciding how the client could have better reacted to it Self improvement comes from having the belief we can succeed and therefore better able to withstand stress. If a stressful outcome is inevitable then we must meet it with something that we can cope with. For example if that U in psychology is inevitable, there is no use stressing over it and instead setting our sights on something we can achieve like a C in Chemistry. This allows us to ‘bounce back’ after stressful events.

Overall CBT is an effective treatment of stress. Thousands of people have been successfully treated and even the NHS recognise it and use it in their practice. The effects are long lasting. Unlike drugs the techniques can be used for a lifetime even when therapy is finished. However is it rational? It might be healthier to view the world through rose tinted glasses but that doesn’t make it rational. Also CBT takes time to work. Unlike the majority of stress drugs which are fast acting, the skills taught can take a long time to learn.

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