What is Cognitive Behaviour therapy?
CBT helps us to recognize when our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are affecting our lives and then creates a pathway to understand and change these so that we can function in a more regular way. For people that experience bipolar conditions, CBT can help to combat negative thoughts and emotions, anxiety, anger, stress, overthinking and other issues that can lead to depression, mania and behaviour problems. In short, CBT helps us to change our outlook to a more positive one, the result of which can be a more fulfilling, rewarding and happier life.
CBT is a problem solving therapy and will involve work and practice on your part. You will have to be willing to challenge your thoughts and make changes in your behaviour in order to make progress. It can be difficult to remember to put it into practice in the beginning but will become easier the more you use it in real life.
The CBT and Mindfulness connection
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is best used in combination with Mindfulness if you experience a bipolar condition. Mindfulness helps to bring your mind to the present and recognise when situations, thoughts and emotions are affecting you before they become a problem. Once you are aware of your thoughts and feelings you can use CBT to make better decisions which will lead to less emotional volatility with practice.
I would suggest at least a bit of mindfulness practice before you dive into CBT as you will most likely gain more ground in a quicker time than without. Ideally you will then continue to hone your mindfulness skills while at the same time learning CBT.
How Can I learn CBT?
1. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is best learned from a professional in either one-on-one or group sessions. If you can find someone that specialises in Bipolar Disorder that would be the first choice, however, such people are not always available. A professional that has experience using CBT to help depression and anxiety will also be sufficient to help you improve your condition. CBT can take place face-to-face or, if you are not near to a specialist, you can also use video calling with Skype, Zoom or other technologies. Always check the qualifications and experience of a professional thoroughly and discuss your situation with them to make sure they will be right for you.
2. Books can be very helpful if you don’t have access to a therapist. When choosing a CBT book make sure that it has been well reviewed and is practical for depression, anxiety or bipolar. Even if you have access to a therapist, books can offer additional insight and additional ways to practice once your sessions have ended. It can be helpful to eventually try several books because each may offer slightly different approaches and exercises, which can only strengthen your tool-set.
The book that has been most helpful to me so far while also incorporating mindfulness is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Bipolar Disorder (by Deckersbach, Hölzel, Eisner, Lazar, Nierenberg)
Buy it from Amazon.com
Buy it from Amazon.co.uk
3. Online courses offer a good way to learn about CBT. Again, look at the reviews and make sure the course is right for you. I have been doing a course through Udemy.com and while this is actually aimed at people wishing to teach CBT I found it thorough, easy to follow and very inexpensive. It is quite long, with the videos alone being about 20 hours plus about the same in practice time on top of that but I found that this helps to keep these methods at the front of mind while you complete the course and practice in your day to day life. There are many other courses though so do an online search for “CBT Course” and see what comes up.
4. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) courses combine mindfulness and CBT and are normally practised in a group setting. I found there is good motivation to complete the exercises since you have to report back to your instructor and group each week. This also allows attendees to learn from each other and share experiences, which can be invaluable. Courses typically run for 8 consecutive weeks after which you are encouraged to keep up your practice. They can be quite expensive compared to online or book learning but very worthwhile if you can afford it. I would suggest learning and practising the basics of mindfulness before you take on an MBCT course as you will have improved your concentration, which can often be difficult for bipolar sufferers. It will also allow more insight into the program and you will gain better value and results by going in prepared.
5. This site will offer basic CBT theory and exercises to get you started. Keep an eye out for new topics on our Let’s Get Started page. I will share ideas that have had the most benefit for me but please use other resources also as they may have more meaning to you and your particular situation.
I found that CBT was essential in my wellness journey. While some exercises I didn’t find as beneficial as others, it’s important to do them anyway as each person will respond differently to each and sometimes the ideas gained from them will pop up unexpectedly when you need them most.
For me CBT is specially helpful in preventing unwanted situations from occurring. I’m better able to see other people’s viewpoints and understand why people might be saying or doing certain things. I don’t jump to conclusions as much, feel that I make better decisions and am able to control my emotions better than before. It takes time and practice but I know that I’m much better than I was a year ago and in another year I will be even better still.