What does CBT have to say about emotions?

I’ve spent the day at Christine Padesky’s conference in London. An expert in her field, Aaron Becks Californian-based prodigy pretty much wrote the book on CBT.


Listening to her today reminded me of what always fails to surprise me about CBT; the almost complete denial of past events and how they may be contributing to someone’s symptoms. CBT will work with what it calls core beliefs in longer term therapy, however as CBT is generally offered short term (especially in the NHS) the majority of the work is based on intervening at the level of the presenting symptoms, such as lack of activity, negative thoughts, etc.

I have written about the efficacy of CBT elsewhere. It is sufficient to say that there is no one size fits all approach to distress and a lot of people have greatly benefited from a practical skills based approach to therapy.

Attempting to answer the question posed by this post is a difficult one, the answer appears to be “not much”. Today we were given examples of current stressful events in a case study, these were cited as “environmental” causes or triggers for the emotion that was being experienced. The focus was primarily on what changes needed to be made by either changing negative thoughts or targeting behaviour that may be maintaining the particular emotion that the person has come into therapy for.

I wonder if CBT is doing itself (and the people who have no choice other than to accept it) a disservice by substantially ignoring the individual and collective causes that lead people to suffer in the first place.

10 thoughts on “What does CBT have to say about emotions?

  1. I think therapy can’t be an either/or thing. I’ve benefited greatly by CBT and it has kept me out of depressive states for the last 10 years following 20 prior years of depression. That being said, you can’t simply think your way out of depression, and the root causes have to be acknowledged and examined in order to let them go and “think happier thoughts.” What I like about CBT, though, is that it has taught me a skill set that keeps me on the lighter side of the depressive line. For me, depression results from negative cyclical thinking (depression is a form of addiction for my brain), so breaking that cycle is key, and CBT allows me to do that. Using it in conjunction with other types of psychotherapy can be really helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m starting to learn about CBT. I have reason to believe it can be helpful to me, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there is no one-size-fits-all cure for depression. You can try CBT or some other type of therapy, and if it helps you, fantastic. Stick with it. But if it doesn’t, it’s okay to try something else.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had to have a really good think about this post. I had therapy to help me manage a chronic, life-threatening illness. I just thought you went along, had a chat, vented and went home. Went back again. This was like a private room you could talk about your nasties, rather than bothering your friends. I really enjoyed chatting to my psychologist but she kept getting me doing breathing exercises and this stuff called “mindfulness”. I didn’t really understand what it was all about at the time but over the last couple of years, I implemented the slower, deeper breathing and I walk along the beach and take in the beautiful surroundings, which is my version of mindfulness. I also need to get sunlight. I also became more resilient, unfortunately due to more health problems, scares and going through chemo to treat the disease. I now tell myself that even if I get bad medical news, that my doctors seem to have another trick up their sleeves and 9 years after my diagnosis I am still here…physically, mentally and emotionally…although I did have a recent blip.
    What I have noticed since blogging, is that quite a number of people feel stuck and swallowed up by their problems and don’t know that there are techniques available which can help. I am a huge believer in the capabilities of brain plasticity and how changing how you think, can actually change the physical structure of your brain.
    Through my recent series of letters to dead poets, I also realised that while some took their own lives, others went through incredible suffering and against the odds, went on . Roald Dahl is a classic example.https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/d-roald-dahl-letters-to-dead-poets-atozchallenge/
    Here’s a link to the list of poets but it included Sylvia Plath, Hemingway…an interesting cast of characters:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/atozchallenge-reflections-66-652-words-wiser/
    It’s a really fascinating area and from what I understand the jury is still out.
    Thanks so much for this.
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely the jury is still out, Freud was over a hundred years ago now but I think psychology is still very much in its infancy.
      I’m a absolutely massive fan of mindfulness, I was taught it in my early twenties and I can say for sure that it saved my life. There is such a sense of peace in knowing one can sit with emotions, rather than having to run away from them in some way. I love the non-judgemental, curious, accepting attitude towards thoughts/feelings/etc that mindfulness advocates. I guess when I say “CBT” I mean the ‘pure’ CBT, not the 3rd wave of the mindfulness-based therapies.
      I hope mindfulness helps you to keep living better alongside your health problems 😉 Have you heard of Mindfulness Based StressReduction? (MBSR) for chronic health problems?
      I had no idea about Roald Dahl, thank-you for that, I’ve learnt something new today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t heard about MBSR. I will check that out and thanks for putting me onto it.
        Roald Dahl amazes me and I’m now reading through his books and his bio. Can’t get enough xx Rowena


  4. So the question is whether to investigate the origin of the bug and root it out or to apply a security patch … the latter sounds cheaper, but more vulnerable to being attacked again. I don’t mean the book looks like hackery, but it doesn’t look academic, either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trouble is, rooting out the bug is a time consuming, often painful process. I can see why people would want to avoid that. The book isn’t academic, more like a skills manual for lay people. I think it’s helpful if you want CBT, it’s inclusive in its reading-level.

      Liked by 1 person

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