DISCLAIMER: Before I go into detail on this post, I’d like to direct you to a previous blog post I made called Me and my anxiety. This post goes into the specifics surrounding the anxiety I suffer with and the symptoms I experience. I would suggest reading that if you haven’t already.
Last year in the spring, I went to the doctors to ask for some help regarding my anxiety. I had been suffering with bad symptoms for quite a while and I needed something to help me cope with the horrible things that anxiety puts me through on a day to day basis. My doctor prescribed me with some medication and over the months I went back in order for the dosage to be increased because I felt like the medication was in effect doing sod all. Eventually, my doctor decided I needed some form of counselling or therapy.
Unfortunately, I was 17 years old and my doctor informed me that CAMHS would not be able to help me but to add injury to insult, I was too young for the adult mental health services so I would have to wait until I was 18 before I could be referred for anything. This was in May. My birthday is in July.
In theory, 2 months doesn’t sound like a long time but when you’re desperate for help, that time seems like forever. My doctor recommended online counselling via email which didn’t work for me at all. My counsellor was lovely but it’s quite hard to talk about things in such a short email, especially when the email exchanges weren’t very frequent and you would suddenly remember something you wanted to include 3 emails ago.
Another thing I didn’t like was the fact I couldn’t see who I was talking to. I didn’t know how they were reacting to what I was saying and that made me feel uneasy. In the end, I was glad when my sessions were over.
However, 2 months rolled past and soon I was referred to CBT. For those who don’t know, CBT stands for Cognitive behavioural therapy which helps you to use different strategies to change the way you think and the way you behave. I had to fill out a form explaining my situation and my mental health issues and then they would decide whether CBT was suitable for you or not.
A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my eventual therapist, telling me I was suited for CBT and I had to engage in a 45 minute phone call, discussing my symptoms, my worries and other bits of information about myself. Soon after, I got my first appointment and I’ve had approximately 8 sessions since the end of October.
Now, the first few sessions were all about what my end goals were. What did I want to achieve? What would I like to do? What did I hope CBT would achieve for me? Once this was established, we then went through different strategies to bring about these goals and changes. One way is through flow charts. For example, one is about the intolerance of uncertainty which includes many situations that trigger my worries. This then splits into positive beliefs about worrying, cognitive avoidance and negative problem orientation. Another one is called the Cognitive Conceptualisation diagram which establishes information about your childhood that may have led to the experiences you face today. This then evolves into core beliefs and that evolves into conditional assumptions/beliefs/rules and the compensatory strategies which are essentially coping mechanisms for the beliefs.
Another way is through booklets which have different activities inside them so you can apply your own circumstances into what the booklet is describing. For example, the positive and negative beliefs about worrying, is problem solving worrying, attention training etc.
I have found these flow charts and booklets to be extremely helpful. For one, it’s good to dump your mind into a diagram and see how different worrisome thoughts can escalate and also, having it on paper is a good way for me to see what needs to change.
One thing I should mention is there is a lot of homework involved with CBT. I only get 50-60 minutes a week so sometimes my therapist would like me to fill out booklets and diagrams by myself. Furthermore, there are things I have to document and report back on such as attention training via meditation or involving myself in a situation I wouldn’t normally put myself in and implementing the strategies talked about in sessions into that situation. It’s very much an equal thing involving you and the therapist. You have to be willing to put the work in.
So, has CBT worked for me? Currently, I would say yes but there is still progress to be made. I still need to accept that CBT isn’t a cure. When I have wobbles, it hits me badly and I feel like everything I’ve done in CBT has been erased. That’s not the case. It’s about making progress and these things take time.
There have been sessions where I have walked out and thought, “Yeah like that’s going to work,” and there have been sessions where I’ve felt on top of the world. For me, it’s all about making progress. I don’t get worried about being away from my Mum as much as I used to. I have had less panic attacks. I’ve been out more. I am doing well and I keep telling myself that everyday.