Over the past few months I have been having cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT. This is to help me with my symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has been a lot of talk about mental health in the news recently so I thought I would just go through what CBT actually is for anybody who is considering it.
Originally I spoke to my GP who suggested I get in touch with IAPT. They assessed how I had been feeling and suggested that I try CBT. I was a bit unsure about this at first. I always thought CBT was for challenging behaviours like smoking, over eating and phobias. I just thought I needed to talk to a professional and get some advice, not change how I was behaving. That’s not to say that I can’t talk to my family and friends because I can, and I do. It’s just they don’t have the professional knowledge that I feel I need at this time. So I was a bit unsure about CBT but as it was what they suggested I thought I should give it a go. They know more about these things than I do.
It turns out that I was kind of right about CBT but it’s not always specific to certain fears and behaviours. It’s about facing your fears, feeling those feelings and challenging them. Before we even got to the nitty gritty there was a lot of planning involved. We talked through the basics of what had happened and created a timeline. My PTSD isn’t necessarily caused by just one event, a number of major events happened over several years. So the planning took quite a while. My sessions are an hour long, once a week when possible and the planning took quite a few sessions.
When the planning is finished we put off talking about the trauma for a few weeks because of anxieties I have been facing recently and me going on holiday. Instead we talked about the things that had been getting to me at the moment and trying to find better ways to deal with those situations.
Three weeks ago, after my holiday and when things were feeling a little more settled we started to talk about the real issues. I was asked to pick the event from the timeline that has caused me most anxiety and trauma. So I picked losing my sight which then lead to depression and a long time in hospital. In the first session of this kind I talked about how my sight got worse. The therapist kept asking me questions as I was telling the story so that we covered as much detail as possible. Things like smells, noises, feelings, what people looked like. As much detail as possible. I was told to talk in the first person present as if that story is happening to me now. For example “I am sat in a chair and the doctor is looking at me” Doing it that way really got me feeling the story and taking myself back there to that difficult time. It is hard and it’s upsetting, but it’s important to remember that you’re safe. And that it is all being done for a good reason. But if you don’t let those horrible feelings be there then the therapy may not work.
While I was telling my story the therapist was writing it all down. After the session she typed it up and emailed it to me. I had to read through it at least three times before the next session and make any changes I thought were needed. The more I read it, the more detail I remembered which I added to the story. Because this is something that shouldn’t be rushed and so much detail is needed, I don’t have to tell the whole story in one session. I kind of do it in chapters. When the story comes to a natural break, then we lave it there and carry on with the next chapter next time. After each chapter is written and finished we discuss my anxiety levels each time I read it and pinpoint which parts of the chapter upset me the most. We then summerise it with a negative belief and a positive belief. For example when my sight got worse, the beliefs could be “I don’t like this and I don’t know how to carry on like this” and the positive belief could be “it’s very bad, but it could always be worse. I just need to learn new ways of doing things”.
Every week I have to track how I have been feeling by answering a sheet of questions. These questions are the same every time and cover most areas of anxiety, depression and phobias. I have found tracking my moods quite good actually because it gets me thinking more and asking myself questions like “why is this week better than last week?” Then it gets me thinking about the good things that have happened and appreciating them.
I think CBT is one of those things that some people will give up on after a few sessions because they think it isn’t working. I have heard quite a few people saying that it’s a waste of time. Maybe it genuinely doesn’t work for everybody. I haven’t finished it yet, it is far from over I think. But I really do think that if you give it a proper go, then it could work very well. But you do have to tell the story, truthfully, (as you see it, it doesn’t need to be factually correct) openly, in as much detail as you can and you need to let yourself go back to that horrible place. It will be upsetting. But you wouldn’t be having CBT if you didn’t need the help. During the course of the CBT understandably you may find yourself feeling worse than you did in the first place. But please stick with it and it should work.
Also PTSD is not just for solders. Anybody who has had a near death or traumatic experience can get PTSD.
xx ❤ xx