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Introduction to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy

CBT considers the connections between our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. This is represented by the cognitive model, also known as the ‘Hot Cross Bun’ model. CBT encourages us to modify our thoughts in order to develop coping mechanisms for everyday life. Developing a better understanding of the link between feelings, thoughts and behaviours can help create more effective thought patterns.

Example: A lesson doesn’t go to plan

CBT diagram

It’s important to acknowledge that feelings are neither good or bad-they are a response to our environment telling us something about our experience. Feelings can be emotional but they may also be physiological in the way that our body reacts. We may notice the physical feelings first before our mind has had chance to catch up. These reactions are often a sign that we don’t feel physically or emotionally safe in our environment.

Managing thoughts

Our thoughts are powerful and can change our feelings and behaviours. It wouldn’t be possible to pay attention to all of the thoughts we have on a daily basis. This can result in us developing negative automatic thoughts that repeat in the background of our minds without us being aware. They can sometimes become negative so we need to challenge these thoughts.

Remember a thought is just a thought – it is the meaning that we place on the thought that impacts on whether we view things negatively or positively.

Thinking errors

There are lots of common thinking errors that we can experience and we all encounter at least one of these from time to time – we often don’t even notice when we are doing it! Becoming more aware of your own thinking errors can help you to shift and change them over time. You may have first-hand experience of some of the examples below:

  • All or Nothing: Viewing things as either 'good' or 'bad' with no in-between
  • Overgeneralizing: When one negative event leads to thinking that the same will happen every time you are in a similar situation
  • Mental Filter: When you focus on the negatives of a situation and filter out the positives
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Making assumptions without any evidence
  • Catastrophising: Amplifying negative aspects
  • Fortune Telling: Making predictions about the future that may be negative.

The good news is that we can rewire our brains to develop more productive thought patterns. By challenging these thoughts, we can begin to look at things in a more balanced way. Thought-changer questions are a great way of doing this. When you notice a thinking error, try asking yourself:

  • What is the evidence for the thought?
  • What is the evidence against the thought?
  • What would you say to a colleague or friend having the same thought?
  • Can you think of a more balanced thought?

Our Thought-Changer Template can be used to record your observations and to help spot any patterns in the thinking errors you encounter.

Managing feelings

Practical exercises such as breathing and mindfulness can help us to address our feelings and regulate your emotions. There is often the misconception that you need lots of time to engage in these types of activities but there are many that you can do on the go in as little as a minute or two. Try out these examples of short mindfulness activities.

Managing behaviours

It’s really important to consider how you are prioritising your wellbeing. Exercise, sleep and good nutrition can all enhance your wellbeing. By prioritising these areas and putting them into a weekly routine may make a difference. You could use our Teacher Wellbeing Planner.

The Be active section of our page includes lots of advice to support your exercise and nutrition.

Benefits of CBT approaches for staff

  • Increased levels of self-awareness
  • Strategies to support clear and rational thinking
  • More awareness and control over your own thought patterns
  • Increase in self-belief
  • Better coping mechanisms to deal with stressful and difficult situations.

All of the strategies on this section of the page are grounded in evidence using a cognitive-behavioural model. You may find the general information and resources useful when you encounter challenges. If challenges persist, a CBT therapist may be able to help by using a more individualised approach.

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