I checked myself into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in September 2019, a month and a half after one of my good friends passed away, and after another friend talked about how much CBT had helped him.
I checked myself out of therapy yesterday. Until next time.
Even pre-pandemic, the NHS was overwhelmed with people self-referring for things like anxiety. This meant I ended up paying for my 17 sessions; for the price of a decent laptop, I changed my life.
Based on a recommendation, I was helped by Johnny from Blue Talking Therapies. I’m not sure what I expected, but a tattooed, straight-talking guy pulling on his own experience of some of the stuff I was going through probably wasn’t it.
That’s because, probably like most people, the only knowledge I had of therapy came from films, with neurotic people lying on coaches being asked questions by a psychiatrist with a clipboard. Let’s just say my experience was pretty much the opposite of that. No digging into repressed childhood memories, and about half of the sessions ended up happening over Zoom.
What is CBT?
CBT is a problem-focused and action-oriented talking therapy, with the following diagram used a lot::
The whole point of CBT, in my case at least, has been to enable me to be myself without wearing a ‘mask’. It’s possible to paint yourself into a rather unhelpful corner by being the person everyone else expects you to be. That wasn’t helping me either professionally or personally, so decided to do something about it. Of course, I didn’t know what the problem was, other than a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
The reason I wasn’t being myself, it turns out, stemmed from a fundamental belief that I’m not “good enough”. It took about 10 sessions of archaeology to get there. It was like a more sophisticated version of asking “why” five times, with Johnny (gently) pulling me back from my rambling anecdotes to the job in hand. The great thing about CBT is that it doesn’t particularly matter where and how this problematic belief came about; I’ve learned to spot it, and deal with it when it does.
Most recently, I noticed this belief manifesting itself in a need for praise from everyone around me. I’ve realised that I often set up situations to solicit positive feedback from people about both professional and personal stuff. As Johnny helped me realise, even if I do then get that praise, it ends up being meaningless, because I asked for it.
For me, CBT goes hand-in-hand with my study and (attempted) practise of Stoicism. I’m not the first to notice this link: in fact, it’s no surprise that Donald J. Robertson, perhaps one of the foremost thinkers on modern Stoicism, is a cognitive psychotherapist. He’s written about the links in many places, including his books, and this article.
Ending my therapy (for now)
I know a few people who are in therapy who, for entirely justified reasons, keep it to themselves. I’ve chosen to be open about the process, not because I’m on some big crusade to get men to talk about their feelings (although there is that angle) but because I work and live openly, and this has been a big part of my life for the last 18 months.
Some might ask, “how did you know you were ready to end therapy?” Well, first it’s worth saying that I’m sure I’ll need to talk to Johnny or another therapist at some point in the future. But the main thing was realising that, in my appointment yesterday, scheduled to be three months after my last, I was having to think about things to discuss with him. That’s never been the case previously. Plus, rather unhelpfully, I guess, you just know…
Get in touch!
The most scary thing about it is making the first appointment. In reality, it’s no different to going to the GP when you’ve got a physical problem, the only difference is the (ever-diminishing) stigma.
If you’d like to talk to me about my experience of therapy, feel free to drop a comment below, or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).