13/09/2018

WHY CBT WASN'T THE ANSWER FOR ME


CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is something that a lot of people who have tackled mental health issues in their lives will have probably come across before. It's basically a type of therapy that studies and explores that way your mind works and aims to control or suppress any unwanted behaviour. On the forefront, it seems like a great, logical idea and it can have great benefits for anyone struggling with anxiety. In a way, it can be seen as the gentlest kind of mind manipulation: learning the triggers and misbehaviours of the mind and what works to stop them. I received CBT in college, so between the ages of 16 and 17. It was with a lovely lady from the Alliance Healthcare Young Persons Therapy team and I saw her every two weeks for the majority of a year. 

And, just like that, you can probably see my first problem. The therapy that I received was within college hours and wasn't allowed to be within lesson time. Due to the fact that the lady only visited on a Thursday between 10:30 and 2:30 (or something along those lines - I can't quite remember the exact times anymore), I was always pretty much forced to wolf down my lunch, lie to my friends about where I was going out of fear of judgement, then head off for my 30 minute session with her. If I was lucky enough, I'd get to my lesson on time and be able to avoid wondering in, unexplained, with a dozen watchful eyes on me. Private theraphy wasn't an option for me 

This happened every two weeks and they were usually 30-minute sessions each - that equates to 1 hour of therapy a month. In my opinion, anxiety is a lot more powerful than the damage that an hour a month can do. In fact, I think she only knew who was walking through that door because my name was written in her diary - otherwise, we barely knew each other. And, when she said to me 'So how have you been?', I was meant to judge the past 2 weeks in the short space of a conversational second. Don't get me wrong, this isn't her fault and, honestly, it's difficult to pass on the blame. 2 weeks is far too long to leave an anxious mind. God knows what could've happened in those 2 weeks. And, it's all mainly because of the huge waiting list and lack of funding. Why wouldn't my college employ 2 people to help? Probably because the Maths department needed more coloured paper, or because the Media department needed another studio. 

So there I would be, turning up on a Thursday two weeks after my last appointment having tackled a bunch of panic attacks, anxiety, frustration, and meltdowns, but in the same way your rash will disappear on the day of your doctor's appointment, I'd walk into the room with a smile on my face. I'd always be having a relatively good day and, if I'm honest, I wasn't going to start telling a stranger my life story anyway. The bad days that had been over the past two weeks weren't particularly something I wanted to relive and, along with the lessons and conversations from the hours before filling up my mind, a lot had clouded over with time. No matter how much we covered in those sessions, it still didn't make me feel better in those moments.


Anyone with anxiety knows that, when bad thoughts strike, there's a huge brick wall that not many people can knock down. They don't understand, they can't say anything to make it better, and it just won't stop. But, of course, it will. But how will 30 minutes every two weeks help me there and then in that moment of frett, loneliness and frustration?

There's a tonne of different branches within CBT and one of the ones that I tried out was 'Exposure'. This involved pinpointing a few day-to-day activities that I struggled with and then working out a plan/timetable for me to follow in a way that would expose me to it in instalments. In my case, I wanted to tackle my fear of public transport, including the bus to college that I had to get every day. Tackling this meant doing things like taking the bus every other day, then to once a day, then to twice daily etc. But that really didn't work for me. The experience was the same every single time. I find it similar to my fear of the local shopping park. As I've got older, that place has got scarier - that might not make sense, but anxiety doesn't

I could never keep up with my exposure exercises either. Life was unpredictable and sticking to a timetable isn't always easy. It's not that I didn't care or pay close enough attention to my CBT, more that I just wasn't strong enough. I could easily do it the day after, but after a week I'd be tired and have given up hope with it. 

Other than the exposure exercises, I only really remember a bunch of paperwork. Filling in forms of how I was feeling. When I attended a therapy session with CAMH's, one forms required me to answer  'Do you ever get sad or annoyed with your toys?'. Just to clarify, I was around 16/17 at the time of filling out these forms and, I can assure you, I didn't still play with toys. As CAMH's typically deals with children with developing mental health issues such as Anger Issues, Schizophrenia, or more intense disabilities, I had to fill out the same kind of form that they did. There's no tailoring done here - nothing to give to the extremely large and growing numbers of teenagers that are suffering mental health problems. A 17-year-old girl that was struggling with anxiety issues was put in the same bag as a 7-year-old child with ADHD

There are only a few more times that I could've sat there every two weeks to 'learn' about 'fight or flight' or be told to meditate. Don't get me wrong, meditating is great, but I had the revision, a social life and sleep to catch up with too. For me, the answer was to have a helping hand there with me all the time; something that could stop frustration and anxiousness before it hit, something to ground me a little bit more, and something that allowed me to have a moment to breathe. 

For me, the answer was medication. It was a really tough and lengthy decision for me to make as I'm aware that not everyone agrees with it. I've been taking antidepressants since January 2017. At the start, it was pretty rough, but I certainly wouldn't be where I am now without the help from the tablets. CBT does help people, and this is just my own experience with it which, unfortunately, wasn't great. If you take anything from this, let it be that you have to give yourself time and be able to experiment with different methods of Mental Healthcare - whether it ends up being CBT, medication, regular self-care, or meditation, each method is equally as valid. And if you have tried CBT and it isn't for you, don't give up. You don't have to suffer.

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4 comments

  1. Sending tons of love to ya!! Every one has there own way of dealing with there struggles with mental health. I'm glad you found something which is working for you!!! sending tons of positive vibes & love for ya!! xx

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  2. Absolutely amazing post Alice, thank you for speaking out about it too. Our experiences sound very similar, as I was referred to CAMHS when I was 16 and had the same issue when filling out forms. They didn't seem to know how to deal with a young adult very well and although I stayed seeing the same therapist for about a year and a half, it never helped. She didn't really target the right things and I wasn't getting any better. Although its funny when you say, whenever I had to go I'd always have had a good day which was so strange, like everything I had felt the past week in terms of anxiety, just disappeared. So weird!

    Lucy | Forever September

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one that felt that way - it can be so frustrating at times. Its definitely so important to try other things and not give up though :) x

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