Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – links with Existentialism

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – links with Existentialism

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – often shortened to CBT, is a directive form of counselling and psychological therapy that focuses on understanding how our thoughts affect our behaviour.  It is based on the belief that feelings result from our thoughts and if dysfunctional or negative, result in conditions like anxiety, depression and related self-destructive action behaviour.

We all experience times when we are worry about something and go over and over it in our minds.  We know how this makes us feel emotionally and in our bodies.  The negativity spreads.  When these associations are so strong or a person’s behaviour is destructive, self-deprecating or simply undermining us having a great life because we feel negative all the time, CBT can help.  If this is what is happening to you, CBT can help you identify your typical thought patterns, challenge them and help you develop new connections.  Thus, new thoughts can be established.  For example, You can be helped to look for solutions rather than saying ‘I have no choice’ or ‘This always happens to me’.  New thoughts can be encouraged such as ‘What do I need to do now to change this?’  ‘How can I look at this differently?’ Asking more positive, solution-focused questions results in a greater sense of emotional wellbeing.  Over time, this will become a more natural way of thinking, resulting in more positive feelings and subsequent actions which serve you more effectively.

Many psychodynamic psychotherapists balk at CBT, believing it to be too technique-driven with scant attention paid to the lived experience of individuals. Constant re-framing of an individual’s thought patterns might be considered by more phenomenologically-oriented therapists to ignore the value of the inter-subjective interaction between psychotherapist and client. The focus on ‘doing something to’ the client’ through re-framing of thoughts and intentions, rather than ‘being something with’ the client, is seen as limiting in helping clients understand their worldview. However, upon closer examination, CBT has associations with more existentially- oriented therapies in that it acknowledges the choice of the individual in creating and changing their worldview. Despite the seemingly, technique-driven approach to re-framing and re-directing a client’s thoughts and therefore feelings and behaviour, it has the potential to empower the individual to see their part in creating their world. Thus, CBT and more existential-phenomenologically-oriented therapies might be closer in orientation than at first assumed. By allowing an individual to sufficiently explore their lived experience and offering pathways to experience change through CBT interventions, clients are empowered to move forward and engage with the possibilities of being and doing something different. That is the role of all psychotherapies; to increase an individual’s choice and wellbeing beyond just acknowledging, experiencing and reflecting on their behaviour.

I often include elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in my work with clients.  I include this within a philosophical way of working based on the belief that life is challenging and we have choice of how to respond – often we deny we have choice or fail to see where it exists.  CBT works well within this because it puts you in the driving seat – you can become the captain of your own mind – and literally ‘You become what you think about’.