From Pavlov’s dog and conditioned reflexes to addressing our cognitive and emotional dimensions, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has made significant progress in recent years. Today, this popular method constitutes one of the three main pillars of contemporary psychology. It has become a powerful tool and many coaches and psychologists use it. Its main purpose is to work on the cognitive and emotional mechanisms that dictate our behaviour.


CBT has gained so much popularity today because it offers individuals the possibility of developing new perspectives and ways of approaching situations. And how to feel and respond to them. In short: we begin by identifying our negative behaviours. Then we modify the cognitive and emotional factors that trigger those behaviours. The goal of this process is to generate new, positive behaviours. CBT is a very effective tool for modifying unhealthy habits, addictions or problematic behaviours such as anxiety or shyness.

Not all dogs are aggressive

Perhaps an example would be helpful to fully understand how this therapy works? Ok.

Imagine that a dog attacked you during your childhood and that you are still traumatised by this event.  As an adult, you often come face to face with dogs when out walking. Every time you meet a dog you are terrified and immediately run away. This would be a very annoying and embarrassing behaviour to have!
For cases such as this, CBT does not focus simply on the context: that dogs make you run away. Instead, it delves much deeper into the cognitive axis and functions: why do I think that all  dogs are aggressive?

This is where we try to establish new convictions: that not all dogs are aggressive. Then we try to alter the emotions that result from it. The end goal is therefore to modify the behavioural response generated by this emotion”, explains Carolyn Jost.

Motivation, the key element of CBT

Although CBT is not a miracle solution. It is an effective method that we can apply to almost all areas of life. “Provided that the individual is highly motivated and that the initiative for change has come directly from the person in question,” says the psychologist.

CBT can therefore be very effective in helping individuals to overcome difficulties. And we can apply it to many aspects of life. Whether the goal is to introduce a new, and improved daily routine, tackle an eating disorder or reduce stress levels, CBT is an extremely powerful tool.

Motivated woman

New trends in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

As it continues to evolve with advances in psychology, CBT now has an additional dimension to offer.

Although the main goal of this therapy is to modify the emotional responses triggered by a given context, the acceptance of certain emotions has become an increasingly common approach. Even if this strategy is considered to be complex, or difficult to achieve at first. This is what we call mindfulness. An existential approach which consists of helping an individual to accept an unpleasant emotion in situations that cannot be changed. Its about coming to terms with a situation and learning to live well with it.

How was this method developed?

To understand how this method was developed, we need to take a short trip back in time. We have all heard of Pavlov’s work. Or at least the name rings a bell for most of us. Towards the end of the 19th century, this Russian physiologist observed that it was possible to condition certain reflexes. In this case, it was the salivation of his dogs when they were in contact with the people who fed them. Or when they were in the place where they usually received their food.

Without having founded CBT, Pavlov, followed by other behaviourist psychologists such as Skinner  and Wolpe, identified an important concept, namely that behaviour is conditioned by the environment,” says Carolyn Jost.  “It was from the 1970s onwards that CBT started to really take shape with the integration of additional axes such as cognition and emotions. As mentioned above: context is not the only factor that conditions an individual’s behaviour. It is also, and above all, about the way in which I understand and feel what is happening.

man hanging a frame

Re-inventing the self

While we often hear that “you can never change a person”, CBT demonstrates that this is possible. Of course, a framework and clear, precise objectives must be set from the  outset to support this change. You should also be aware that the longer a behaviour has been ingrained in a person, the more effort it will take to change it.

But the good news is that with the right support and advice, anything is possible. And significant improvements in the long term can be achieved. So it’s up to you to identify the behaviours that cause problems in your life and take the right steps to change them! To receive help and support from one of our coaches, please click here.

Written by Thomas Pfefferlé

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