Jocelyn works as a Human Resources Manager for a large international organisation. She is becoming more and more stressed at work as the company is constantly changing and evolving. It is a requirement of her job that she keeps up with this change by implementing new strategies as well as ensuring focus is kept on her main role of headhunting new employees.

She finds that she is working twelve-hour days, six days a week and doesn’t have time for her friends and family. She has started yelling at staff members when they ask her questions and when making small mistakes in their work. Concerned about her stress levels, Jocelyn decided to attend a counselling session.

Below is an extract from Jocelyn’s first session with her counsellor:

Transcript from counselling session

Counsellor: So Jocelyn, let’s spend a few minutes talking about the connection between your thoughts and your emotions. Can you think of some times this week when you were frustrated with work?

Jocelyn: Yes, definitely. It was on Friday and I had just implemented a new policy for staff members. I had imagined that I would get a lot of phone calls about it because I always do but I ended up snapping at people over the phone.

Counsellor: And how were you feeling at that time?

Jocelyn: I felt quite stressed and also annoyed at other staff members because they didn’t understand the policy.

Counsellor: And what was going through your mind?

Jocelyn: I guess I was thinking that no-one appreciates what I do.

Counsellor: Okay. You just identified what we call an automatic thought. Everyone has them. They are thoughts that immediately pop to mind without any effort on your part. Most of the time the thought occurs so quickly you don’t notice it but it has an impact on your emotions. It’s usually the emotion that you notice, rather than the thought. Often these automatic thoughts are distorted in some way but we usually don’t stop to question the validity of the thought. But today, that’s what we are going to do?

The counsellor proceeds to work through the cognitive behaviour process with Jocelyn as follow:

Step 1 – Identify the automatic thought

Together, the counsellor and Jocelyn identified Jocelyn’s automatic thought as: “No-one appreciates what I do”.

Step 2 – Question the validity of the automatic thought

To question the validity of Jocelyn’s automatic thought, the counsellor engages in the following dialogue:

Counsellor: Tell me Jocelyn, what is the effect of believing that ‘no-one appreciates you?’

Jocelyn: Well, it infuriates me! I feel so undervalued and it puts me in such a foul mood.

Counsellor: Okay, now I’d just like you to think for a moment what could be the effect if you changed that way of thinking

Jocelyn: You mean, if I didn’t think that ‘no-one appreciates me’?

Counsellor: Yes.

Jocelyn: I guess I’d be a lot happier in my job. Ha, ha, I’d probably be nicer to be around. I’d be less snappy, more patient.

Step 3 – Challenge core beliefs

To challenge Jocelyn’s core belief, the counsellor engages in the following dialogue:

Counsellor: Jocelyn, I’d like you to read through this list of common false beliefs and tell me if you relate to any of them (hands Jocelyn the list of common false beliefs).

Jocelyn: (Reads list)Ah, yes,I can see how I relate to number four, ‘that it’s necessary to be competent and successful in all those things which are attempted’.That’s so true for me.

Counsellor: The reason these are called “false beliefs” is because they are extreme ways of perceiving the world. They are black or white and ignore the shades of grey in between.

Applications of CBT

Cognitive approaches have been applied as means of treatment across a variety of presenting concerns and psychological conditions. Cognitive approaches emphasise the role of thought in the development and maintenance of unhelpful or distressing patterns of emotion or behaviour.

Beck originally applied his cognitive approach to the treatment of depression. Cognitive therapy has also been successfully used to treat such conditions as anxiety disorders, obsessive disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, dissociative identity disorder, chronic pain and many other clinical conditions. In addition, it has been widely utilised to assist clients in enhancing their coping skills and moderating extremes in unhelpful thinking.