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Is CBT The Magic Answer?

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I am often contacted by parents who are looking for CBT for their child. I think this is primarily because CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is put across by the media as being the magic answer to all emotional and mental health problems.

I do think that in some situations, applying the techniques of CBT can very helpful and even key to a person taking steps forward and in these circumstance I will happily use them in my work.

However, I believe there are some dangers in seeing CBT as the answer to everything and I, as a therapist would be short-changing my clients if I used it with everyone. If there is an underlying trauma or issue that needs dealing with, CBT at its’ best will paper over the cracks. It may provide temporary relief but the difficulties will re-emerge (often more severely) at a later stage. At worst, using CBT at the wrong time can lead so some children and young people feeling worse than when they first came to therapy.

So is CBT the “Magic Answer?” Well, research repeatedly shows that a clearer “Magic Answer” is the strength of the therapeutic relationship. If that is in place, CBT – amongst other approaches, can provide a positive way forward for some, but not all, children, young people and adults.

Good Will Hunting it Aint

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When I first decided I wanted to work as a children’s and young people’s counsellor I imagined day after day being filled with moments such as the one shown here (apologies for the bad language in the clip). It wasn’t long into my training that I realised that these kind of life-changing moments in therapy are few and far between.

I remember meeting with my University tutor after a particuarly hard going few months counselling and she asked me how it was going. I remember saying what I had learnt – “Good Will Hunting It Aint.” I was learning (the hard way) that the vast majority of therapeutic work is about creating the right conditions so that a person can gradually make changes.

Therapists call moments like this one a “Moment of Relational Depth” (Mearns & Cooper, 2005). It’s about a moment when a therapist and client just “click.” It’s about a lightbulb moment when the pieces come tumbling into place. It’s about a therapist and client connecting in a way that words cannot describe. It’s about a life being changed and it usually happens as a result of a lot of “creating the right conditions” beforehand.

I HAVE been there for some “Good Will” moments and it’s one of the most amazing and humbling experiences in the world. There are no words that can really describe it but it is a huge honour to be present when the pieces fall into place.

However, the majority of my work is about the long term work to help people to make change in their own lives. Good Will Hunting It Aint – but an honour and priveledge it certainly is.

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