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CBT In The Modern World

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the Modern World

Written By Sarah Hall, Hypnotherapist & Councillor

We are one of the few creature on Earth that uses language to express ourselves, and the only one who uses language to tell stories about ourselves. Many people believe that it is this capacity that gave rise to the modern mind; that part of our brain that is rational, reflective and takes time to think things through. There is an older more instinctive mind as well. This part of us is intuitive, emotional and all too often intrusive. 

For most of human history and prehistory, we lived in small groups of around 30 people. Our world was smaller and simpler but less forgiving. It was the instinctive mind that kept us alive, balanced between curiosity and fear, and ready to run away. If something bad happened, it happened close to us and to someone we knew. Then after millions of years everything changed quite quickly.

We stopped gathering and hunting, settling down to farm, to found towns, cities and civilizations. We started telling stories and writing them down; stories about who we were and how the world worked. We invented mind tools like logic, maths and philosophy that helped us tell ever more complicated stories about ourselves and the world we lived in. We changed and the world changed with us. 

Today we live in a busy, complex and hugely interconnected world. It’s much safer, but there are new challenges and sometimes our instinctive mind struggles to keep up with them. For example, today if something really bad happens we’ll still hear about it, but it is far more likely to have happened far away and to someone that we have never met. Our rational mind understands how unlikely it is that it could happen to us, but our instinctive mind often needs help to catch up.  

Take air travel for example; it’s common knowledge that the chances of being killed in a plane crash are around 11 million to 1. That makes anything else we do more dangerous than flying. Yet around 5% of people struggle to get on a plane. Awareness of rare and distant accidents, combined with a perfectly natural fear of height set up tension between the instinctive mind and the rational mind. This could lead to misleading, intrusive thoughts and distressing feelings that could shape behaviour in unhelpful ways. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a practical approach that helps us to put these normal and natural processes into context. It offers a toolbox of skills, attitude strategies and behaviors that may help us to make sense of ourselves and the world in a more helpful and accurate way. A way that may help to re-balance the rational and instinctive parts of our mind, so that they work in harmony.

A good example of a simple but effective CBT strategy is to ask yourself what advice you might give to a friend when dealing with a troubling situation. It turns out we often tend to be more rational, objective and even gentle when talking to our friends, and this may help us see our own situation in a more helpful manner. This is a strategy that anyone may use at any time, and like so many good ideas once you have tried it, you'll keep using it.

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