NORMALISING CBT; MAKING VISIBLE MENTAL HEALTH

by Sunetra Senior

If your friend says ‘I’ve started going to the gym’ it is considered undisputedly positive; if they tell you ‘I’m getting CBT’, suddenly the atmosphere becomes tense. They seem to feel awkward as they tell you, and you don’t quite know how to react. They might as well have told you they’ve contracted an STD. But Cognitive Behavioural Therapy — a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave — is only good for you.  It is evidence of a sensible choice. And yet, sweating, starving and interfacing with an inanimate, rectangular scale every morning, is more attractive to people than sitting in a comfortable chair and talking leisurely with someone you trust.

In one of my previous articles, Equalimania, I talked about the existence of ‘a people-hating culture’ that likes to ‘laud the functionality of our fingers over the wholesomeness of our minds’, and the fact that we do need to right this harmfully ‘skewed emphasis’. The news is proficient with stories of newer, better technology — the latest smart phones, laptops and even robots who can replace humans — while the cogs and gears  of our inner workings are (apparently quite literally) pushed into the shadows.   But our emotional immune systems need just as much specialist maintenance — especially with the fevered steam-cooker of capitalism pressurising us from the outside. We do tend to feel more panicked, more inadequate; less connected to ourselves. We need an upgrade on the inside and effective self-reflection is a must.

Just as taking up jogging or watching your diet is a great habit, so too is the process of getting your emotions together

Here’s where the idea of normalising CBT comes in. With precision and power, the therapist helps you identify which particular thoughts are causing disruptive feelings, whether it is overwhelming sadness, anger and/ or anxiety, and encourages calming rationale to help you overcome the trigger situations. You are given the tools to feel in control of your mentality, and can ultimately feel better day to day. Just as taking up jogging or watching your diet is a great habit, so too is the process of getting your emotions together and being the best version of your personality. And it really is as every day as all that. More people need help than they realise, and guess what? This is OK.

(© Gemma Calvert)

To be emotionally complex is to be human. You didn’t just pick up education, test results and/or work experience through life; you absorbed pain and joy, accumulated your own personal history, a unique and textured consciousness. This means that very few of us don’t have baggage, and the person who we are naturally requires regulation and ongoing cultivation. To go back to the physical analogy, you accept quite readily that your body is prone to becoming flabby or nutrient-deprived, so why not also your mind?

Mental health is scorned and/or feared […] because people are made to discount the fact that we are contemplative beings altogether.

Here lies a second benefit of more widely practiced CBT. It can be as ideologically transformative as it is a physiological help. Another observation made in my article, Equalimania, was the contempt society is trained to have for themselves as ‘entire feeling beings’ because of an outward looking corporate agenda that values, above all, a stolid and mechanical workforce.

Mental health is scorned and/or feared (think back to the opening example) because people are made to discount the fact that we are contemplative beings altogether. It becomes hard to respect emotional hygiene when we can’t even appreciate the fundamental role of the mind in our humanity. Evident in the name itself, CBT directly combats this by making significant our consciousness, and by extension the integral place of our emotions.  With the body/mind bias equalised, we can accept each other as psychological vessels and the world looks very different from there.

(“Inner Landscapes” © lolalolita3; deviantart)

Suddenly, you can appreciate that child abandonment issues, borderline personality disorder and even milder episodes of psychosis, are really not that ‘big of a deal’. Indeed CBT is used to treat these conditions alongside, and part of, general anxiety and depression, and again, much of the population has experienced it. They are simply too afraid or dismissive to see a course therapy through.  And that is the point. If we could have a default awareness of an inner landscape, we would naturally react more readily and sympathetically for ourselves — towards others — when we heard it was being compromised. People would have the same uncharged response to the information that someone was feeling low as they did to someone who told them they had the flu.

With its high success rates, CBT symbolises a commitment to personal development, and for this reason, would do wonders for a feeling society in need of some deep tissue physio. They tell you — push onto you even — the importance of physical fitness, and how not to get Gonorrhoea in school; now it’s time the institution did more to make you happy, to show you the reward of being well-adjusted.

Featured image © Kristen McDonnell

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