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  • Writer's pictureMim Kempson

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: is it for me?

If you've tried CBT before and it didn't resonate, please don't see that as reflecting any fault in you. I've had a few clients come to me feeling ashamed that CBT didn't work. They've since found narrative therapy to be a good antidote. The key is in finding an approach that works for YOU.

That's the thing, there's a time and place for all types of therapy. However, there definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all. Plus, what may serve you today, mightn't work for you tomorrow. Speaking for myself, I've certainly found that a particular concept (like, "everything happens for a reason") may soothe me one day, but annoy the heck outta me the next, leaving me feeling hopeless.

What suits one person, mightn't suit another

Therefore, it can be helpful to explore counsellors with different approaches. Reality is, it can take a few tries before we find the right therapist. It's always a bit of a gamble. That's why I prefer to be really transparent and as detailed as I possibly can in describing my style and approach before anyone commits to even a first session with me. It's also why I offer free introductory calls so people can get a sense of how we vibe.

What is CBT?

IMPORTANT: I'm not at all trained in CBT, but to give context before I compare it to narrative therapy, here's a description from the American Psychological Association:

CBT is based on several core principles, including:

  1. Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.

  2. Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behaviour.

  3. People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.

CBT therapists emphasize what is going on in the person's current life, rather than what has led up to their difficulties. A certain amount of information about one's history is needed, but the focus is primarily on moving forward in time to develop more effective ways of coping with life.

How does narrative therapy differ?

Like I said, I'm not versed in CBT, so I can't make a direct comparison. But, if you've tried CBT and are considering trying narrative therapy, here are some points to know.

Problems are located OUTSIDE of the individual rather than in their thinking

In narrative therapy, there's no 'positive reframing' or 'changing our perspective to change our reality'. There's no 'power of the mind' talk.

Problems are culturally and socially constructed, which means it's no fault of our own that we're discriminated against, marginalised, silenced and unfairly treated. Sure, we may come to THINK of something as a problem due to our conditioning and the dominant narratives that have bombarded us, telling us who we *should* be - but that's not a result of our 'faulty thinking' that needs fixing. We're up against century-old stories and expectations about gender, race, sexuality, class and more - it's an epic task to get ourselves to a place in life where we're unaffected by them. It's not a matter of changing our brain. It's a matter of changing society, and doing what we can along the way to support ourselves. Which brings me to:

We choose the stories we live by

While it may seem like an impossible task to become immune to the pressures set by society, our family, workplaces and so on, there IS room to find freedom and autonomy. Quite often, it's simply the case that we haven't been provided the time and space in life to even just consider what stories we want to live by. It's rare that our families, the media, our schooling, our governments role model examples of the kinds of people we want to become. The fact that you can't 'see' what you want to become is no flaw in you - let's be real: some people have an easier time picturing it because the world is set up to support their realities more than other people's. Denying that fact, and saying this 'lack of clarity or purpose' is a problem in someone's thinking is an absolute injustice. Which brings me to:

The personal is political. And the political is personal.

Therapy is activism. Doing the 'inner work' sets us up to take on the world and influence it positively. However, we cannot change the world by doing the 'inner work' alone. We must take collective action. Take responsibility for your part in it. Your wellbeing contributes to the collective wellbeing. Self-care IS collective-care. Collective-care IS self-care. If we move from individualism where we believe it's admirable to be self-made, self-sufficient, self-empowered, self, self, self... well then, what's the point in having any relationships?

I really believe in the work of Johan Hari (author of Lost Connections) and Paulo Friere and Victor Turner with their ideas of 'communitas' - meaning in life isn't found through individual accomplishments, it's made through our connection with others.

They're just three key characteristics of narrative therapy that I feel sets it apart from other forms of therapy and clinical psychology.

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