In my late twenties I was referred by my GP for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), having visited her to say that my anxiety had increased since starting a new job. I had no idea what CBT involved, and I didn’t realise when I was referred, that this would entail a number of meetings. Having had anxiety with varying degrees of severity, for much of my life, I didn’t even realise that I was ‘eligible’ for help - I assumed that therapy was only for those who had debilitating mental health conditions which severely affected their day to day life. Other than anxiety over my job change, I felt emotionally stable, and content. I saw my therapist around six times over the course of a few months, by which time my anxiety over my work situation had eased greatly.
Though I do not remember all the details of our sessions, there is one conversation that has stayed with me and helped me on numerous occasions; it contains an important lesson that I am trying to pass onto my children. I told my therapist about my disproportionate levels of worry over the fact that I had knocked over a coffee cup during a meeting. I couldn’t stop agonising over what everyone else might think of the incident, and of me. We talked about the possible perspectives of the others in the room, and thought about what my own perspective would have been - both at the time, and later on - had someone else spilled their coffee. My therapist helped me to realise that most people, most of the time, are too preoccupied with their own thoughts and concerns, to worry too much about what others are doing. She also helped me to see that whatever they might have thought at the time (if they had even noticed the incident), it would be quickly forgotten about as they went about their daily lives. Even now, every time I’m worried about a mistake, or a lack of judgement, or something I’m embarrassed about, I think of that coffee cup, and it’s enough to help me to readjust my perspective.
CBT therapists use a particular model based on the idea that our thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn affect our behaviour. When my therapist helped me to change the way in which I thought about the ‘coffee cup incident’, and other aspects of my new job, it led to a significant decrease in my anxious feelings, and I was more confident at work. CBT worked well for me, in that situation, and I would recommend it to others who experience stress, anxiety, or depression which seems related to particular changes or experiences. However, I believe strongly that there is no one-size-fits-all type of therapy. I also believe, based on this experience and a subsequent one a few years later, that CBT is best suited to less complex, more short-term difficulties, which lend themselves to a time-limited, model-driven, and solution-focused approach.