Awesome Kitty presents: the purpose of CBT

The purpose of doing CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is to get better at being happy.

“Being happy” is surprisingly hard to do: it takes knowledge and skill, patience and practice. You have to pay attention to your feelings and notice which things make you feel happy or peaceful or calm, and which things make you feel anxious or angry or ashamed or miserable. You have to learn which things in your life trip you up. You have to keep practising and working at it until you can do it even when you are tired or startled, or when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation. You have to keep working at it your whole life long, because the things that make you happy, and the things that trip you up, can change with time. And sometimes being happy isn’t really achievable, so you just have to work on becoming less miserable.

A cute cartoon kitten against a light pink background. The title is: 'Awesome Kitten Presents', and below the kitten isthe text: 'Main goal: Be happy. Subsidiary goals: Food and shelter, Spend more timewith friends, Stop having anxious thoughts'

Of course, when you talk to counsellors, doctors, social workers or psychologists, they usually don’t tell you that the purpose of CBT is to get better at being happy – instead, they tell you that the goal is to stop compulsive or self-destructive behaviours, to overcome anxiety or phobias, or simply to find a job or return to work and become a more productive member of society. Those things are all just secondary goals, and the primary goal is still to live your life in a way that makes you happy. Having secondary goals can be helpful because they give you something concrete to focus on, but if there is ever any conflict or confusion among the goals you should always return to the fundamental one.

Sometimes counsellors or doctors only want to talk about practical things like getting back to work as quickly as possible. Since they have a lot of power over you you might have to go along with what they say even if you don’t agree with it 100%, and that’s OK. You can still hold onto the fundamental goal inside your head, even if you don’t say it out loud.