Dr. Ingrid Söchting, a recognized expert in the field of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), joined the Department of Psychology in September 2014 as Director of the UBC Psychology Clinic.
Söchting has been instrumental in developing CBT group programs for depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as IPT groups for later life depression. Söchting recently published a new book Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy: Challenges and Opportunities.
In this Q and A she discusses the book along with her latest theory and research.
To start with, what is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?
Cognitive behavioural treatment is a form of psychotherapy that especially focuses on what maintains problematic behaviours and patterns of thinking about oneself, other people, and one’s environment. CBT takes early life events seriously, and helps clients understand how these events may continue to influence present functioning. CBT helps clients become aware of when they engage in unhelpful ways of behaving (e.g., avoiding certain places) and thinking (e.g., ongoing self-critical inner dialogue) and replace those with more helpful ways.
To get a thorough introduction to CBT in general and in particular to group CBT. The first part of the book is a step-by-step guide for how to start a CBT group for a mental health professional or trainee. The second part offers practical help with common problems encountered in group CBT such as how to prepare clients, prevent dropouts, and develop exposure hierarchies in a group. The latter part offers protocol suggestions for how to apply group CBT to specific problems, e.g. hoarding disorder, or populations such as for children and the elderly.
What are some of the most common challenges patients face when they turn to you for help?
For group therapy, it can be a challenge to “sell” group therapy as most clients will chose individual therapy if given the option. But with adequate preparation for group with the client having opportunity to ask questions and express any fears, the vast majority of clients find the courage to give it a try, and end up being happy they did.
What are the benefits of using group CBT for treating depression and anxiety disorders?
Clients get both a highly effective form of therapy recommended by national and international guidelines for clinical practice. For almost all disorders, a group format has proven to be as effective as an individual. Clients also get an opportunity to see that they are not alone and can learn better ways of coping not only from the group therapists but also from the other group members.
Why did you choose to research and specialize in group CBT?
I was fortunate to do both an internship and post-doc at the former UBC Health Psychology Clinic and Anxiety Disorders Unit (directed by the late Peter McLean). My supervisors were CBT clinician and research leaders nationally and internationally, including UBC Psychology’s Dr. Lynn Alden. My post-doc training included an outcome study on comparing pure group cognitive therapy for OCD to pure behavioral group therapy for OCD. You’ll have to read my book to see which treatment won! When I took my first psychology job in a public setting where most clients were referred by their family doctors for mood and anxiety problems, it became even more apparent how effective CBT and group CBT is. I became especially interested in group CBT as it satisfied public health requirements for offering evidence based services to as many people as possible given scarce therapy resources. But in addition to the cost-effective and symptom specific CBT interventions, the group format also struck me as potentially very human and compassionate. The various interactions and processes allows the group itself to also become an agent for change.
What is the future of CBT?
CBT continues to evolve, and there is almost no disorder or problem for which a CBT approach has not been found to helpful. In many western countries access to CBT services by highly trained clinicians is Government-funded. We have a ways to go for that to be the case in BC and Canada, but with continued advocacy for the helpfulness of many kinds of psychotherapy – not just CBT – we may see improved access to and availability of CBT and group CBT.
About the author
Dr. Ingrid Söchting, a Canadian-Certified CBT therapist and a Certified Group Therapist of the American Group Psychotherapy Association, is the director of the UBC Psychology Clinic. She also supervises and teaches CBT and IPT to psychology and psychiatry residents, coordinates the CBT program for the UBC Psychiatry program, and is a clinical associate professor in the UBC Department of Psychiatry.
Ingrid also has copies for sale in her office!