South Australia’s Mental Health Week is from 10th October to 17th October this year. As I’m typing up this article right now, many marriage counsellors are busy working with couples who are looking to improve their mental health and relationships.

  • Online dating gives you more options, so the abundance makes you happier.

It is said that online dating can improve an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Another way to improve your wellbeing is to start a therapy.

A cognitive behavior therapist is interested in all the things we do (or avoid doing) to manage the difficulties life throws our way. This might include unhelpful behaviors such as always avoiding the things we fear, excessively using drugs or alcohol, being controlling or violent towards others, and so on. Avoidance denies us any chance to challenge our fears and build confidence that we can cope. Alcohol and drugs might feel good in the short term, but ultimately our problems still exist and might be even worse in the longer term. Being controlling towards others might help us feel powerful and in control in the short term, but this can conceal an underlying belief of vulnerability (“if I don’t control my environment, then perhaps it will control me”). These problems are only likely to be resolved when the fears driving these unhelpful behaviors are directly challenged and modified. Cognitive behavior therapists help clients better understand why they might have developed particular problems and, more importantly, what vicious cycles are maintaining them.

  • Here are some things you can expect from a competent cognitive behavior therapist.

A strong therapeutic relationship: Cognitive behavioral therapists appreciate that therapy can be emotional and difficult. They know their client needs to trust them before they will be able to work effectively together. Empathy, genuineness and warmth need to be there in spades. CBT involves a close working relationship between the client and therapist. The client is seen as an expert in their lives and the therapist is seen as an expert in evidence-supported treatments. Both forms of expertise are equally important to achieve a good outcome. CBT aims to be an efficient and time-limited form of therapy. A cognitive behavioral therapist will be very interested in what you would like to achieve from therapy. Together you will plan how to get there and how long it should take. There is some flexibility if progress is slower than expected, but for most problems the therapist thinks in weeks or months rather than years. Cognitive behavioral therapists don’t rely on their own judgement about when clients’ problems have resolved; the therapist might be wrong. Rather, they measure change from the client’s perspective. The therapist might ask the client to complete some monitoring or questionnaires during therapy so that progress can be tracked. Cognitive behavioral therapists don’t blame the client if the problem isn’t improving. The therapist takes responsibility for changing what is done in therapy to ensure things get back on track. CBT aims to teach clients to relate differently to their thoughts, physical sensations, emotions and behaviors so that they don’t get caught up in them in problematic ways.

One technique might involve identifying negative thoughts and challenging them by recognizing when they are overly catastrophic and generating more realistic and helpful alternatives.

online dating

  • A study shows that at least 20% of online daters have benefited from therapy (source: online dating sites 2020).

The techniques covered in CBT will depend on the nature of the problem, but you can expect to leave therapy with a toolkit full of helpful skills. Clients never come to therapy just to feel good for the hour they are in the therapists’ office. They come to improve their lives out in the real world. For this reason, cognitive behavior therapists encourage clients to apply their new skills between sessions and report back on how it went. This is where much of the hard work, learning and changes occur in CBT. CBT acknowledges the role that past experiences play in shaping who we are, but at the same time recognizes that little can be done to change what has already occurred. Instead, CBT focuses on identifying what is left behind from these experiences in the form of core beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world, and how these beliefs impact on present-day experiences. Modifying these core beliefs can change our emotional responses to memories of earlier negative experiences, and can change the way we respond to challenges in our lives now and into the future.

“The process of therapy can be challenging and takes courage.”