What if cbt doesn't work?

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As of writing this I have been to 3 sessions of cbt for depression and anxiety. I'm under no assumptions that 3 sessions is anywhere near enough time to be all that beneficial, but you know when you just have a feeling that it's not for you?

So far, I've definitely found it helpful even just having someone to listen to some of the things playing on my mind, but I get the feeling that it's more due to the fact I've never spoke about my feelings to another person before, and once the sessions end, I'll never speak about them again either. So it's a relief to have that kind of outlet.

The thing is, our sessions have gone a bit like this so far -

I'll tell her something that's happened to me that week, I'll tell her how it made me feel, and I'll also tell her how irrational my feelings are and how I am fully aware that a lot of my anxiety and paranoia is in my head but for some reason I feel powerless to it anyway. Then she will comment on how good it is that I'm self aware about my problematic thought patterns.

And that's it.

In my first session, after she said about how positive it was that I am able to rationalise my thoughts I asked her if she had any more comments or suggestions but she turned it back on me and asked what I thought I should do and uh, I had no idea?

Again, I know 3 sessions isn't going to magically fix things, and I know that the idea behind cbt isn't to tell you what to do and is more about helping you draw conclusions on your own (right?)

But what happens if you've already drawn those conclusions and you still wind up sabotaging yourself? Right now I feel like I could have a million of these sessions and I'll only end up going through the same process.

This week at my session we are going to discuss whether cbt is right for me and discuss other methods that might work as well/instead. What would be really useful to me is if anybody here could tell me their own experiences of what they've found works if cbt doesn't? Or even if someone could tell me what other options there are because I don't want to go into this session blind. I'm scared that I'll just agree to something I'm not going to actually feel will be beneficial simply because I have a knack for just agreeing to things just to be polite or because I want to tell people what I think they want to hear.

Sorry if this is a little long winded.

Take care everyone x

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  • Posted


    Well I've done about 3 rounds of CBT and it wasn't until my last that I found the courage to tell them I just wasn't feeling it.

    I'm not saying CBT doesn't help some people, of course it must otherwise it wouldn't be such a prescribed course of treatment, and I have heard some success stories.

    I was a bit like you in that I know my issues, I know unhealthy thought and behaviour patterns I get in to, it's just stopping them that's the problem.

    I didn't find the techniques suggested such as meditation, yoga or relaxation tapes or sleep hygiene all that helpful as really I've been doing these things for years...

    What I did find helpful though was the talking.

    So I decided to end my CBT and ask for talk therapy, this can be a counsellor or psychologist depending on what you've already tried/your level of need.

    The important thing is to be honest with yourself and your mental health professionals.

    I know sometimes its hard to disagree with medical professionals, but really it's a waste of everyone's time if you're going along to appointments out of obligation rather than them actually being useful to you.

    I agree maybe 3 sessions isn't enough to know if its not helping yet. Maybe try another 3?

    I'd be honest and say you aren't sure if they are helping or not, but you're willing to try a few more if both you and your CBT therapist agree.

    If it works then that's great, if not then maybe look to other talk therapies.

    Ultimately I don't think there is a "one size fits all" approach to mental health problems, some are best on medication, some with talk therapy, some a combination.

    It's all about finding what is a good fit for you personally.

    Sorry I couldn't be of more help.

    All the best xxx

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    • Posted


      Thank you for your insight it was helpful hearing your experience, so thanks for sharing that with me.

      It's also a relief to hear that someone else was aware of their negative thought patterns - it's always stressed me out that I seem to be doing or thinking certain things even when I know they are irrational.

      I'm glad to hear that talking has been helpful for you. I think the talking will help me too, even if I'm not technically changing my damaging thought patterns, at least it's "out there" as it were.

      Nah, you're good. Plenty help, cheers.

      Take care x

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  • Posted

    hi im at the exact stage that you are on with cbt im starting to feel as its not for me but i want to keep going at it as 3-4 sessions probly isnt enough me personally want to talk and tell them how i feel i know what i should be doing the following week but doing it in my own time i fail all the time even if its to go out for a walk daily things are hard to be honest i actually told her that it sounded alot of the time shes talking out of a text book and doesnt know how it feels the way i do she seemed abit raged by this and told me that health care professionals have been through something similar but me being me dont believe that anyway to the point im at the stage you are keep it up i suppose be good to hear how you get on
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    • Posted


      Thanks for your response. Yeah, cbt has been a little frustrating for me too and I can see what you mean by the whole reading it out of a textbook thing. Last week when I was talking to my therapist she actually interrupted me in the middle of a sentence just to get a point in about some quote from some philosopher or psychiatrist or whoever it was that she was quoting. I don't think she meant to be rude, but I do think she was trying to apply something that she'd learned from a textbook to my situation sort of more for her benefit than mine if that makes sense?

      Sorry to hear that you also are having a tough time with it, and I hope you find out what works for you.

      Take care x

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  • Posted

    I'd stick it out for a bit. It doesn't sound a lot like the CBT I had, where the therapist gave me lots of suggestions, and made me practice things in between sessions to get the hang of thinking differently. Maybe you haven't got on to that bit yet? I think that CBT actually is supposed to tell you what to do. That's always been my impression. They usually bring printouts too. 

    What you are describing sounds more like CAT (Cognitive Analytical Therapy) which seemed to be a process of pointing out what you're doing wrong and leaving you without a way of fixing it. 

    On the other hand, there are good and bad therapists, and also a lot depends on your relationship with the individual involved, so you may just have lucked out. I'd explain your worries to the psychologist, and see what she says. Do stick with it if you can, because it's hard to get referrals, and you can get something out of even bad therapy if you are pretty self-aware, and it sounds as though you are. If you are getting really frustrated you can ask to change therapists (I think, it's been a while since I was on the merry-go-round); I'm sure you can find out which body is providing the therapy and ask them.

    Don't give up, it can help amazingly if all the ingredients are right. 


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    • Posted


      Thanks for your reply, that's interesting what you said about having the impression that cbt is supposed to tell you what to do, I'm definitely not getting that out of it. I think I might be at least partially to blame on that front though as I'm naturally analytical and I'm quick to point things out for myself without the outside influence. You're right that does sound like CAT (Not heard of this before). I think I'll try and bring this up and make a decision based on her reaction.

      Thanks again for your input!

      Take care x

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