Editor's Message: Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy

Sarah Hamid-Balma

Reprinted from "CBT" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 6 (1), p. 3

When my anxiety disorder was finally diagnosed as an adult, I was on the list for 12 sessions of one-on-one CBT. I felt truly lucky when a spot opened up.

CBT remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was so simple—and yet so hard. I had to do everything my intuition had been telling me not to do for more than 15 years. But intuition isn’t always trustworthy. You see, my mind and body had conspired together to find a way to cope all those years—unhealthy ways to cope that didn’t really work well—but it was coping nonetheless and those patterns of survival, well, are hard to break. I did it in baby steps, but the hardest part was bringing on the anxious feelings for homework. My husband would spin me in a chair at home, nightly, until I got nauseous. I would breathe through those brown plastic coffee stir sticks until I was gasping for air and then keep doing it for 10 more seconds. My family couldn’t quite understand why I was doing things that made me feel bad, but I trusted the process. And it worked, and still does.

My clinician used a manual to teach me the techniques. But I did all the work. There’s something both empowering and scary in healing yourself. Scary because success was up to me. Sometimes that power made me wonder if maybe I was to blame for my disorder since I could essentially get rid of it on my own. But then I thought of people with physiotherapists. They are taught strength and strengthening exercises to relieve and prevent pain, but we don’t doubt their pain or blame them. They just need tools to feel better. Like I did.

As I studied the dramatic pre- and post- scores of my CBT, I felt guilty too. There are tens of thousands of people on waitlists, or without any free CBT option in their community. People who could transform their lives in a few short weeks and months. Our guest editor is right. If there were a cheap, effective, side-effect-free treatment for any physical illness, policy makers would be falling over themselves to make it available and have MSP cover it. Thankfully, that’s starting to change, but still too slowly for my taste. Maybe the powers-that-be have a few thinking traps of their own they need to work on.

About the author

Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Public Education and Communications at the Canadian Mental Health Association's BC Division. She also has personal experience with mental illness.