CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Youth Counselling

girl in counselling with therapist

A question we’re sometimes asked is, “Do you have a short-cut, fast-track or life-hack available for youth counselling?”


The short answer is, “no.”


There’s no “magic cure” when it comes to therapy or counselling. This holds true for adults as well as teens, adolescents and youth.


Having said that, one form of therapy that many of our patients have found quite valuable is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.


Unlike other types of counselling or therapy which can be more open-ended, the beauty of CBT is that is shorter and more fixed in length. While not a “short cut,” CBT offers an effective option for many of our youth counselling clients with anxiety, depression and other mental & emotional health issues.


What CBT Is and Is NOT

young man or boy with anxiety

CBT isn’t something you can simply sign up for, complete a few sessions, tick off some boxes and be on your way.


CBT is, however, a more compressed way of going about the therapy and counselling process.

The Definition of CBT


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that is typically shorter in duration, focusing not on the history or the sources of our emotional wounds that are deeply rooted in the past, but rather on identifying what is holding us back and finding ways to change our thoughts & behaviour to live a better life.


The underlying principles of CBT are:


  • Our mental/emotional health issues are inextricably linked to negative patterns of behaviour
  • Our mental/emotional health issues are based on unhelpful or unhealthy ways of thinking
  • The key to wellbeing through CBT is changing the way we think and act


While this seems simple enough, remember that our behaviour and thoughts are ingrained in us from an early age. For adults this can be a challenging process to reverse.


The Goals & Strategies of CBT for Youth & Teens

teenage girl depressed

For teens, adolescents and youth, however, the negative thought patterns and troubling behaviour haven’t been a part of one’s life for quite as long.


This means that, with the help of a qualified cognitive behavioural therapist, one can overcome these issues and move forward effectively with CBT.


The goals and strategies of CBT – both for youth and for young adults – are as follows:


  • Identify the dangerous or disruptive thoughts that are holding you back
  • Challenge those thoughts and learn to embrace different, even contradictory thoughts
  • Become more confident in your ability to cope and function
  • Develop strategies for problem solving and coping


In short, CBT encourages a way to think differently.


While it doesn’t happen overnight, we’ve found that it can happen quite well over time, so long as the strategies are embraced and followed diligently.


On the behavioural side we also have a set of goals, including:


  • Learning how to face your fears, to accept & embrace change
  • Finding ways to centre oneself and become more focused and calmer (meditation, prayer, yoga and many other methods have been harnessed)
  • Using role-playing to practice for real-world situations


Through a conscientious effort involving both thoughts and behaviour, CBT can help one overcome the challenges of youth and adolescence, including mental & emotional health issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, trauma/PTSD and many others.


Examples of Specific Mental Health Issues Helped by CBT

girl in counselling with therapist

Now that we’ve established what CBT is (and isn’t) and how it can help in general, let’s take a look at some specific examples where CBT can be (and has been) quite effective.


Anxiety in Youth & Teens


A common mental health disorder in teens, adolescents and youth is anxiety.


Anxiety is defined as feelings of tension and worrying thoughts that are often accompanied by physiological factors such as heightened blood pressure.


It’s important to note that clinical anxiety and feeling anxious can be two different and separate things.


Many students, for example, feel anxious in the hours or days leading up to a big exam. These are normal, natural feelings to have, but it’s only temporary – so long as the feelings go away after the exam has ended.


The difference between those feelings and an ongoing state of (clinical) anxiety is that someone afflicted with anxiety feels anxious pretty much all the time.


Oh sure, an exam or a date could make the feelings anxiety considerably worse.


But even in the ‘best’ of times, someone with anxiety almost always feels like there is something wrong, something bad, and they spend a larger percentage of their time consumed by thoughts of worry.


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective means of dealing with anxiety.


Rather than focusing on what events from your past might have caused the anxiety, CBT uses the aforementioned approach of changing thoughts and behaviour to affect different outcomes.


Many teens and young adults have found CBT to be highly effective in dealing with their anxiety, as it as helped them get through difficult periods and find strategies of coping and living a better, more productive life.


Depression & CBT

teen boy in counselling with therapist

Depression is another common mental health issue among youth, teens and young adults.


Clinical depression is defined as having constant or regular feelings of sadness, melancholy, emptiness, tearfulness, hopelessness, despair, etc. People who suffer from depression have often lost interest in things that used to bring them pleasure; they find themselves sleeping more, feeling fatigued, and generally lacking drive and/or desire.


Just like anxiety, there is a distinction between clinical depression and feeling depressed.


That big exam you were feeling anxious about? If you failed the exam you might be feeling depressed. But neither of these on their own are a clinical disorder.


Depression is a lot like taking that feeling of when you did poorly on the exam and applying that to pretty much every day of your life, every waking hour even, for no apparent reason.


Depression, it turns out, is also often associated with anxiety.


But wait – aren’t they the opposite?


Well, yes and no. Depression are like mirror images, two sides to the same coin. One can be clinically depressed and also have worrying thoughts and associated physical issues.


CBT has been found to be very helpful for people with depression as well. Once again, CBT helps by changing the way you think and the way you behave.


It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s not a miracle cure; but, in time and with consistent effort on the part of the person seeking help through CBT, he or she can find ways to feel better and live a better life.


CBT for Addiction & Eating Disorders


Addiction takes many forms.


One can have an addiction to alcohol, to drugs… even to food.


Or one can have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.


Traditional youth counselling methods might start by focusing on what is at the root of the addiction.


While CBT practitioners generally see little harm in someone exploring these root issues on their own, the role of the CBT therapist is to facilitate ways for you to overcome your addiction.


As you may have guessed by now, CBT focuses on changing the thoughts and behaviour that are fueling our addictions.


Your CBT counsellor or therapist will work with you to find the connections between your addiction and your thoughts & behaviour patterns, then come up with strategies and methods tailored to your needs that will ultimately break the patterns and ease your addiction.


CBT Is Not A Cure, But It Is a Big Help

girl in counselling with therapist

No matter what issue(s) you may be struggling with, it is important to understand that CBT is not a cure for them. Nothing is.


If you are struggling with addiction, for example, technically it is said that you will be an addict for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean that you have to continue using the substances to which you are addicted. On the contrary, many addicts have remained sober and living a positive, productive life for years or decades.


The same goes for depression and anxiety. CBT helps you work through your mental health issues. Technically you will still have depression or anxiety as part of your personality, but the strategies you gain through CBT help you change your thoughts & behaviour to be largely free from the bonds that depression and/or anxiety had previously held on you.


CBT for Youth Counselling in Ottawa


If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental or emotional health disorder in Ottawa, please know that help is available.


Capital Choice Counselling Group is a network of Ottawa counsellors, therapists and social workers dedicated to helping people overcome the challenges faced with mental health issues.


We have many therapists and youth counsellors on staff who are trained and experienced with CBT. If you are interested in finding out more about how CBT can help you, contact us today to find a counsellor or therapist near you.


With COVID-19 social distancing measures, we also offer tele-therapy and e-counselling. Rather than attend CBT counselling in person, you can meet with your counsellor by video or phone.