Using CBT within Person-Centred Therapy

Until I started my training to become a counsellor, I had not experienced Person-Centred Therapy, I had only had CBT and at that point I was not a fan. Having learnt more over the last few years, and particularly this year, I have seen the benefit of using CBT techniques incorporated within PC work.

Counselling and therapy are all about change, the PC model, created by Carl Rogers (, enables the client to feel safe enough to change. The core conditions, when given to the client genuinely can really affect the way the client is able to look at themselves. To be really heard and accepted for who they are is a powerful thing. This was something I had never had before, really being listened to, heard and understood.

CBT is about changing the thinking and beliefs that we hold and therefore behaving in a different way. Changing thoughts and feelings will change behaviour and ultimately change how we then feel about things. It is a process that keeps going round like a circle.

When working with a client who has become stuck it is easy to think about using CBT to help move them along. Although there is nothing wrong with this, in some instances it could sabotage the work already done. I have a client I could have used the ABC model with to help move her forward, but with time and understanding, she got there herself and the therapeutic relationship stayed strong throughout her journey. She learnt to accept herself and her feelings by being listened to, understood and given back the control over her life that she had lost. CBT may have got her there quicker but time to learn about herself is priceless.

Change is something that many people are looking for when they access counselling. They may be stuck in their lives and do not know if and how to move forward.

I have fully embraced the PC model as I see the benefits it has given to me and to my clients. But learning to use tools within that PC setting is important and I am going to look at CBT and particularly the ABC model.

CBT is the connection between how we think (cognitive), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behaviour). The way we have been thinking our whole lives can affect how we feel about things and then how we behave. By looking at the ABC model we can break down what is happening for someone and then inform change.

  • A is the activating event. What has happened to the client to lead them to B.?
  • B is the belief, what we will believe about ourselves or what will happen as a result of the activating event.
  • C is the consequences, what will happen to us if we carry on with the belief we are holding and behaving as we are?

The only way to change the consequences is to change the belief and that is where the work needs to be done. Challenging beliefs can be a very empowering thing to do and looking for the evidence of those beliefs can be eye opening.

People may be cynical about the ability to change their beliefs but I have seen it happen and not just for myself. I have challenged clients on the things they are saying and what they are choosing to believe. Behaviour can be changed quite quickly if we look for the evidence, or lack of, to challenge beliefs that we may have had for our entire lives.

Although relatively straightforward, CBT does involve the client actively taking part in the process by keeping going between sessions. Once learnt, challenging our beliefs on anything can help us to behave in a different way and therefore change the consequences for ourselves.

Published by Victoria Warwick-Jones

Mother, dog mother, beauty junkie, counsellor, aspiring gardener.

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