Inside The Mind - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

We have often it said that ‘your life is shaped by your thoughts’ and ‘what you think you become’. Knowing then the power of our thoughts, it follows then that to change our lives, we must change our thoughts.

One method that is used to help individuals change their lives through their thoughts is via cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is a type of talking therapy that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes can affect your behaviour. CBT looks at the way you think and the things you do.

The theory behind CBT is that the way we think affects the way we behave. For example, if you interpret a situation negatively, you may react negatively to the situation and have negative emotions as a result and lead you to behave in a negative way. The same applies for positive thoughts, feelings and behaviours to positive situations.

When does CBT help you?

CBT has been used for a many problems that people go through. It has been used to help those dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, phobias, stress, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. More than these, it is also helpful for those who have emotional problems such as low self-esteem and/or those with a physical health problem.

How CBT works:

Cognitive behavioural therapy helps you make sense of what seems to be big, overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts that are easier to handle. The problems are broken down into five main areas:

  • The situation

  • Your thoughts

  • Emotions

  • Physical feelings

  • Actions

The model of CBT is that these five areas are interconnected and affect each other- your thoughts about a certain situation that arises can affect how you feel emotionally and physically and these in turn can affect how you react to the situation.

The goal of CBT is to stop the negative cycle and break down the situations that cause negative feelings and emotions like fear, anger or anxiety. When these are broken down into more manageable situations, you are able to change the thought patterns and make improvements to how you feel. Working with a therapist over a period of time, you are taught how to tackle these problems without the help of a therapist.


Types of CBT:

Because of its nature of being used for many problems that people may have, there are also a number of ways that the therapy can be applied, such as:

  • Individual therapy- these are one-on-one session with a therapist

  • Group therapy- working in a group with individuals who are tackling the same problem

  • A self-help book- in this method, you work through the book with steps and exercises to help you

  • A computer program- this is known as computerised CBT (CCBT)

Aspects of CBT:

It differs from other forms of therapy because it is

  • Pragmatic- it helps identify specific problems and tries to solve them

  • Highly structured- instead of simply talking to your therapist, together you discuss specific problems and set goals to help you achieve them

  • Focused on current problems- the focus is on how you think and act instead of working on past issues

  • Collaborative- you work together with the therapist to find solutions to your problems

CBT helps you change the way you think (cognitive) and also what you do (behaviour)- these changes work together to help you feel better and achieve a positive state of mind.

Awakening The Artist Within

The moment you hear ‘art therapy’ thoughts tend to turn to it being an expensive treatment that is exclusive to “real artists” and not the guy next door- or even yourself. The beauty of art therapy is that while in most cases a trained therapist specialising in this area is used, there are exercises you can try at home. And if you enjoy the process and feel the need to take the process a step further, then you can always find a trained art therapist to go deeper and explore the meanings and insights uncovered.

A few exercises you can try at home for the mind, body and soul:

Emotions: a few things to try when dealing with emotions like anger and sadness

  • Create a journal- an art journal that reflects your journey allows you to visually express your emotions.

  • Create and design a card- this can be directed at someone who has hurt or angered you (and you don’t have to send it) to express your feelings

  • Create an emotion wheel- have colours to represent different emotions. This will help you think more critically about your emotions.

  • Create a stress painting. From your colour emotion wheel you can pick colours that represent the emotion/ stress and distress by scribbling, painting it away.

Relaxation: if you want to lie back and take a breather

  • Colours are attached to emotions so use only those that calm you. Paint or draw using these colours

  • Draw in sand-with your fingers of course. Connecting with nature and drawing shapes and scenes of different sizes is a great way to clear your mind.

  • Go outside and draw or paint. Breathing in the fresh air has a calming effect-more so when you put to paper what you see around you

  • Paint while listening to music. Listening to calming sounds while painting creates a flow and relaxation sets in.

Happiness: take time and use art to depict happy thoughts and has you focused on the positive

  • Photograph what you think is beautiful and create frame for them to remind you of the beauty that surrounds you

  • Draw your vision of a perfect day with you in your happiest state. Visiting your “happy place” will have you thinking happy thoughts.

  • Document a spiritual experience- draw or paint what the experience was like for you and how you felt

  • Have a ‘soft’ project- having a soft, cuddly toy can be comforting. You can get creative with different materials and create your own softie

Trauma: these exercises can help you come to terms with unpleasant experiences-with the goal of overcoming them

  • Draw or paint your safe place. In the often dark and scary world, having a safe place and an image of that can help make you feel safe

  • Make an ephemeral artwork using materials like sand, chalk, paper or water and destroy it when you are done. Letting go is not always easy, but this exercise teaches you that it’s okay if something doesn’t last

  • Draw what scares you- when the fear is brought to light you are on the journey to facing it and learning to find ways to overcome the fear

Often times the different materials and process evokes emotions and thoughts within us. With the help of a trained therapist/counsellor the fears, associations, hopes, memories and desires experiences are laid out and explored in a safe space to hear and understand their roots.

You don’t have to be a Picasso or a Michael Angelo to create something beautiful. Using what is in your hand you too can be an artist in your own right. Art has many uses and when you think outside the box you can find solace and be encouraged to continue on the journey of healing and becoming whole.



Art Therapy: Not Just A Pretty Picture

There is another way, a fun way to explore feelings, resolve emotional conflicts manage unhealthy behavioural and addictive habits, develop and improve social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. And it involves more than sitting on a therapists couch and talking to a stranger for a limited time. While these methods certainly have their place, expressive art therapy is a process, a fun and creative process, which stimulates and engages the hidden artiste in all of us.

As the name says, the art is the therapy- using visual art (drawing, sculpting, painting and other expressive and creative art forms) to restore to wholeness, an individual’s functioning and their personal sense of well-being.

images 1

Art therapy has many uses

From helping individual deal with physical disabilities, war veterans, child abuse victims who can’t put into words their experiences, psychological issues and more for both young and old alike, art therapy is a technique transferable to different situations and yield results

It goes way back to the 1940’s

Influenced somewhat by Freud, Margaret Naumburg is viewed as the “founding mother” of art therapy- encouraging her clients to pencil their dreams and not just talk about them- seeing it as a distinct form of psychotherapy.

It pays special attention to your “inner experience”

It’s not about what’s all about you that counts, but takes you inward to reflect on the meanings images have for you within. Your feelings, thoughts and perceptions are valued and encouraged, with special attention to what lies within.

Art therapy uses many techniques

Drawing and being artistic is fun and lies at the centre of art therapy, but talking adds essential colour to the mix. Voicing various subjects, meaning, depth and insight is the gold discovered at the end of the spectrum. The active imagination technique uses the individual’s artwork to associate it with other feelings and thoughts that come to mind. Using the gestalt method, the artwork helps start a discussion.

Similar to keeping a diary, art therapy is about putting your thoughts on paper- but getting your hands dirty, colourful and often wet in the process. Expressive art therapy is not something that only creatives, arty people or just an activity to keep the kids busy.

It’s an approach to therapy embraced by numerous settings like hospitals psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, in private practice, senior homes, schools and other social and community settings. Individuals and in groups, their inner Picasso is birthed, enhancing their physical, emotional and mental well-being. As research advocates, by tapping into the creative well in the individuals, those who experienced illness, injury, trauma, mental problems or personal growth, the benefits of the artistic side and self-expression brings healing and wholeness.

Author: Nelly Kgoabi

The Benefits of Art Therapy

Picture yourself atop a mountain overlooking a city or valley, or sitting by your window with a stunning view that you can’t tear your eyes away from. The serene beauty of what lays before you is enough to calm your soul, help you “get away” from it all and gets you in touch with yourself once again.

Now add an easel, paint, chalk or even clay to the mix. Putting down what you see and feel on paper has extraordinary effects. The power to capture a moment for a lifetime, interpret nature or your feelings and pencil what words cannot express- it borders on remarkable. And it’s not something that only artists can do. We have often heard it said that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and it is true. Using art as a form of therapy and means to express yourself and as a tool to overcome the big and small challenges of life is a privilege available to all.

So how exactly do you benefit from art therapy?

  • It helps facilitate expression for those who aren’t used to expressing their emotions

  • When individuals have been traumatised, verbal expression is inhibited. Art therapy provides a means to communicate and deal with the trauma without words

  • Engaging ones creative side encourages emotional growth and self-exploration

  • It helps in the development of interpersonal skills and healthy coping mechanisms

  • It helps promote personal independence, learning how to be self-reliant and self-sufficient

Using art as therapy is a method used the world over, and in South Africa researchers and therapists have seen the benefits such as

  • In a country where many subjects are whispered about, it is a less threatening medium to use than talking in itself

  • It is a form of therapy that can transcend the different cultural and language barriers

  • For many children who head homes and assume adult responsibilities, it affords them a chance to play and be kids, also contributing to their psycho-emotional development

  • Its accessible to the mentally and physically disabled children who in many cases do not have access to any form of therapy or support

Young and old alike, art therapy, when used and facilitated under the right conditions, can be empowered through their artwork to give them an avenue to communicate and 

be free with their emotions. It helps improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the recipients.

In the words of legendary artiste extraordinaire Pablo Picasso “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso quote

What Are Other Organisations Doing?

MusicWorks is a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town that has been running for 10 years. They make use of music to help children in underprivileged communities realise their potential.

Their vision is to have young people find hope for their future through their connections with music. Offering therapeutic services to the children and their communities, they create and strengthen their musical resources and support networks through the help of volunteers and donations from various sponsors.

MusicWorks runs numerous programs to help them in their endeavour:

  • MUSIC THERAPY- these are one-on-one group based sessions that give children clinical interventions, helping the hurting one through their healing process.

  • MUSIC FOR LIFE- this makes use of musical activities like the marimba, gumboot dancing and choirs as part of their after-school programs.

  • ECD- the Early Childhood Development program works with children between two and six years who live in impoverished and violence-stricken communities.

There are many ways musicians can get involved by participating in their Play It Forward concerts. This is “A music concert is ‘passed on’ in a chain reaction of goodwill; raising funds and increasing exposure for our work.”

For more information on this organisation and what they do, you can visit their Facebook page:




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