In southern Spain, the Marbella / Puerto Banus area was synonymous with cosmetic surgery and private dentistry, available only to those who could afford to pay the price, but now many Brits are joining the celebrities and flying to Malaga, in order to visit a clinic offering free, initial sessions in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The British-run clinic in Fuengirola (between Malaga and Marbella) was used to seeing Brits flying over for stopping smoking therapy, but now they are arriving with a whole shopping list of problems.
It is estimated that currently one in six adults in the UK are suffering from mental health problems - a sad indictment of today's fast-paced, high-stress society. But there is a way to combat the fallout, in the form of CBT, a science-based, short-term psychological talk therapy, which can provide an almost instant solution.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is structured, goal-focused and time-limited. In fact it is so rapid, effective and cost-efficient that the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) now recommends CBT as the treatment of choice for a wide range of psychological problems, in particular stress, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, fears, phobias, eating disorders and other personality disorders, such as OCD and hypochondria.
CBT is most commonly thought of as a treatment for clinical depression, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders and is often beneficial for more common "life" problems such as stress. Occasionally people find that worry and self-esteem problems grow to such a level that even performing simple tasks such as giving a presentation at work or even going to the shops can affect their physical health and cause them mental distress.
What is CBT?
CBT tends to deal with the 'here and now' - how your current thoughts and behaviours are affecting you now. It recognises that events in your past have shaped the way that you currently think and behave, in particular, thought patterns and behaviours learned in childhood. However, CBT does not dwell on the past, but aims to find solutions to changing your current thoughts and behaviours so that you can function better in the future.
The therapy is based on the simple idea that the way we think directly affects our behaviour, so when we have irrational or distorted thoughts and perceptions, our behaviour and reaction to situations or events will also be irrational. During CBT sessions the therapist breaks down problems into small sections, which can be quite easily dealt with one at a time. A specific situation or event is the starting point; then the person's immediate, flawed thoughts about that situation are examined. These erroneous, often negative, thoughts lead the person to have certain emotions and physical feelings, which in turn prompts them to react and behave in a negative, unhelpful way. A trained CBT therapist aims to change the patient's thought patterns by demonstrating how when their initial thoughts are correct, realistic and rational, then their emotions and resulting behaviour are also much more helpful, rational and positive.
How effective is CBT?
Clinical trials suggest that CBT has been successful in addressing various emotional problems. For example, research studies have shown that a course of CBT is just as effective as medication in treating depression and certain anxiety disorders. It is also possible that, longer term, the effects of CBT will continue to protect the client from further illness. People who finish medication may be at greater risk of relapse compared to CBT clients, who have learned principles and strategies to sustain their recovery, so, for example, problems such as depression or anxiety are less likely to recur in the future. There is also good research evidence to show that CBT can help to improve symptoms of some physical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.