Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims at getting rid of negative thoughts to treat depression, anxiety and even PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). However, not many in the city are aware of CBT as a treatment option.
CHENNAI: According to the World Health Organization, over five crore Indians suffered from depression in 2015, while another three crore suffered from anxiety disorders. While some in India turn to astrology when they’re having issues in their marriages or troubled by negative thoughts, others find relief in medicines prescribed by psychiatrists.
But even among those who seek the help of therapists, there is very little awareness about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Guided by empirical research, CBT has been found to be just as effective as medication for treating depression, anxiety, and even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite being considered worldwide as the gold standard for treating mental disorders, very few in Chennai specialise in the practice.
Ussamah Habib, a freelance CBT practitioner with six years of experience, attributes the lack of awareness about CBT to the prevailing stigma towards mental health. “Here, we don’t have the culture of opening up about our issues,” Habib says. “The older you grow, the more others expect you to sort these things out by yourself.”
Meena, one of his clients, who sought help when her mother passed away, faced judgement within her own family while pursuing therapy. From claims of it being a waste of money to blaming Habib whenever she came home sad or tired, they were completely against it...however she saw improvements after every session. As the first step in Habib’s therapeutic process, he measures each client's level of depression through a series of questions, talks with them to address the thoughts most affecting them and zeros in on the problem. For Meena, this meant walking her through the days prior to her mother’s death. “As a person, I can’t just cry,” she says. “I’ve never been the girl that cries. CBT helped me let those emotions go.”
CBT does not use medications or drugs as part of its treatment. Ahmed Nadeem, one of Habib’s patients, avoided therapy due to false assumptions about mental health care. “I know when I go to see a normal therapist, they will prescribe drugs,” he says. “My only exposure to therapists before Habib was through American TV, where they would just sit and complain about their lives, and then get medication.”
CBT works on the assumption that a person's mood is directly associated with his/her patterns of thought. Negative, dysfunctional thoughts affect a mood, sense of self, behaviour, and even physical state. The goal of CBT is to make one recognise negative patterns of thought, evaluate their rationality, and replace them with healthier ways of thinking. “CBT teaches problem solving skills,” Habib explains. “If their (patients’) thoughts are negative, they don’t represent their reality. CBT teaches them to view their thoughts through an ocular lens.”
Sunita Menon, another CBT practitioner in the city, feels that more people are aware about CBT now, and feels that the holistic treatment approach is best. “Depression and anxiety are bound to be present along with other conditions like phobias,” Sunita says. “I help them deal with the psychosis — the root of the problem.”
She analyses her client’s ‘schemas’ and core beliefs in the first session. Schemas are a client’s patterns which tie back to their childhood. “CBT also gives clients homework,” Sunita says. “I
give them tasks like observing themselves, their behaviour, or thought process.”
On return visits, the first 15 minutes are spent on reflection. “How did the week go for them? They’ll invariably tell me how they perceived the last week and how they processed it.” CBT even helps those with severe depression, where weekly sessions will be required. Compared to other methods, CBT has fewer and less severe relapses.