Friday, 26 June 2015

My Experience Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

A few people have asked where I've been these past few months. All I've offered so far as an explanation was simply that I was ill, without going into specific detail. But now I feel ready to talk about what's been going on in my life. I realise I don't have to (believe me I thought a lot about whether I should write this post or not), and some of you may not want to read a post like this, which is fine, I'll be back to my usual posts again after this one! I'm doing this mostly for myself - I feel like sharing my experience with others is a kind of therapy in itself - but if reading this post helps anyone at all, that would be amazing too.

Almost a year ago I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I think it's safe to say that last year was very much a rollercoaster year, with many mixed emotions attached to it. A lot happened in such a short space of time (I won't go into detail on this, but some of you reading may know) and my mind was unable to cope with what was going on. I tried to brush it all under the carpet, keeping up appearances pretending everything was fine then crying to myself later, until one day I ended up having an emotional breakdown at work (yup, right in the middle of the office). This, along with a lot of persuasion from my family and boss, prompted me to visit the doctor, who signed me off work for a few weeks and prescribed me with antidepressants.

I was also given the number of our local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service and was told they may be able to help. I called them but never took it any further - to be honest the thought of talking to a complete stranger about my problems absolutely terrified me - I was scared of being judged and didn't see how it was going to help me anyway. I thought I would eventually get through it by myself and thought I'd be fine to come off my antidepressants too. I hated the way they made me feel within myself - it's a kind of empty feeling, like there's no emotion there. In December last year I went cold turkey, completely giving them up straight away, without weaning myself off first, and without consulting my doctor.

I learned the hard way that this was the wrong thing to do, and in February I found myself back at my doctors surgery, right back where I'd started seven months earlier - if anything I'd made myself worse. I felt sick at the thought of going back on antidepressants, but I knew I had to - my emotions were so erratic and they needed controlling. I knew that if this was only going to be a short term solution then I'd have to find another way of overcoming this. I called IAPT again that same day and booked myself in for a telephone consultation.

After talking through my experiences and what I wanted to achieve, the consultant decided that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy would be the best route for me to take, and I was put on the waiting list. It was then that I decided to cut down on my blogging. It was taking up a lot of my spare time and I needed to focus on getting myself better, I didn't intent for it to be a full on break, that's just the way it turned out, as my energy levels were pretty low at that point.

My first session was a few weeks later and to say I was terrified was an understatement. I cried the whole way through my session and all the way home. My therapist could see that he wasn't going to get a great deal out of me at that point, so just asked me a few questions about why I was there to identify my main problem areas and talk through techniques we could use to target these problems - I barely said a word! He established that my main problems were worry, self esteem and assertiveness.

The next few sessions were really bad. I used to dread Thursday afternoons and would even have preferred to stay at work than go to therapy(!), but I kept going to keep my family happy. I closed myself off to my therapist a lot. He tried his best but I wouldn't open up much at all, so a lot of our time was spent with him talking to me, going over coping techniques and using general examples to explain them, nothing relevant to my life - and I wondered why I'd go home thinking this wasn't working! I got given a lot of reading material, mostly self help guides, which just sat gathering dust for a very long time. Of course, if anyone asked, my sessions were going great and I was feeling a difference already. I felt terrible lying to them but I was too ashamed to admit I'd made no progress.

I felt like such a failure for not being able to get the most out of my sessions, yet I wasn't trying to do anything about it. It wasn't until one night when I finally decided to dust off my books and actually read some of the material I was given, that things started clicking into place. My therapist had always asked me to write any thoughts I had down and either work through them at home using my guides or take them to my next session, but I'd never done this. It felt like homework to me, something I couldn't be bothered to do, but now know is essential to getting somewhere with CBT. Suddenly I had a great big list of thoughts and worries that I'd kept locked away in my head. I'd take my list into my sessions and discuss with my therapist how I've gone about dealing with each of the problems listed, and perhaps if there was a better technique I could have chosen.

I worried about a lot of things, even the tiniest of things, so we started to use a technique called the Worry Tree to determine if each of my worries was justified and if anything can be done to remove it from my life. The best way I can use to describe it is like those quizzes that were in teen magazines where you answer yes/no questions and follow the arrows to determine which Spice Girl you were most like, or whatever!

The self esteem and assertiveness issues kind of went hand in hand. I needed to work on my self esteem first before I could try being more assertive. We started by looking at why I had such a low opinion of myself and if my beliefs were really true. I had to list words I'd used to describe myself and my therapist would ask for any evidence I have to support any negative traits I listed. If there was none, it would get discarded, and he would list good traits people may have and see if I had any evidence of those. I developed a completely different image of myself, just by questioning my thoughts, and my confidence began to grow.

We then began to work on my assertiveness, which was the part I was most nervous about. I would make a list of areas in my day to day life where I may need to be more assertive and act out scenarios so that I could practice changing the way I express myself. I was never a fan of drama at school and this is what it felt like a little, so it took me a while to feel comfortable, but I found the practice really useful before using it in everyday life.

After a few weeks I felt really comfortable walking into my sessions, talking about my week, sharing any problems or thought that I'd had (and written down!), and working together to resolve them. I felt like I was finally getting the most out of my sessions, and that was down to me putting in the time and effort to tell my therapist exactly what was troubling me and what I wanted to do to change that. Therapists are amazing at what they do, but they can only do so much on their own - they are not mind readers!

I have now finished my CBT sessions, during which I was able to wean myself off my medication, and am feeling so much better. I am by no means "cured" - I still have occasional bad days, but I now feel like I have the tools in place to deal with them, and have learned to open up if I need help.

I would urge anyone who is suffering from anxiety and/or depression to contact their local IAPT service. Even if they feel that they are not the best service to help your specific case, they will put you in touch with organisations that can. I will stress though that it is important that you are at the stage where you want to make this change in your life. I've found out myself that therapy will only truly work if you are willing to engage with your therapist and do the "homework" as it were.

Sorry that I've rambled on so much, and well done if you've managed to read all of this! Like I said, if at least one person has found this useful then I know I've done the right thing in sharing my story. If you did want to find out more information, I've left some useful links below, or feel free to ask me questions and I'll do my best to answer them.


  1. This is such an honest and beautifully written post. I can totally relate to your experiences. I agree, you have to be "willing to engage with your therapist", unfortunately this is something I am really struggling to do. My therapy session themselves have become a major source of my anxiety but I know I have to push through. I know I need to be more open and work harder. I guess a part of me is still waiting for some magic words to 'cure' me. Your story is really inspirational and I hope I can get over this bad patch like you did! Thanks for writing about your journey, it gives me hope! I think this is a really important topic to discuss!

    Roxie ♥

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Roxie. I hope you find the strength to open up, but please don't worry that it hasn't happened yet as it does take some time. Your stepping into a completely alien environment so it does take some adjusting to, and there's a lot of information to take in. Believe me, I was terrified for weeks of walking through that door. Good luck, you can do it x

  2. Well done to both of you. I am doing a coaching course to help people to find their own answers and there are different stages for some people however it doesn't matter which stage you feel you have reached, you're still further forward than you were. One word I am looking at is "should"/who said you should/where is that pressure coming from/does it really have to. It is felt to be brave to speak out but you've both done that too. Best wishes to you both on your journeys.