What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?


CBT is a therapy concerned with the relationship between thoughts/beliefs (cognitions) and behaviour. It suggests that the way you think about an event is responsible for how you feel about that event. CBT also suggests that the way you feel is dependent on what you do (behaviour). We know that different people have different reactions to the same event, so it is your interpretation of that event that leads to your particular emotional reaction. Therefore if one thinks differently about an event, or acts differently in response, then one would feel differently.

The aim of therapy is to develop an understanding of the problem and what thoughts and behaviours trigger and maintain the problem; then to develop skills and techniques for dealing with the thoughts and behaviours in realistic, rational and helpful ways.

The goal is to help you to become your own therapist, gradually reducing the need for the therapist. To develop a toolbox of skills and techniques to apply to old patterns of thinking and behaving, also to help you stay well by learning to deal with new issues or difficulties which may arise.

CBT is collaborative, meaning it is a joint venture between you and the therapist. The therapist brings expertise in the therapy and you bring knowledge of yourself and of the particular difficulty you have. The therapist does not make judgements, but works with you to achieve change.

What Happens in CBT Sessions?

The CBT approach focuses on the difficulties you are having in the here and now. Although it is important to examine how the problem originated the focus is on how it affects you currently.

At the beginning of CBT you may be asked to complete some self-report forms to enable the therapist to gather as much information as possible to learn quickly the nature and extent of your difficulties.

The therapy is structured and active, meaning that the sessions run to an agenda and involve work and homework on your part. This may involve keeping a diary of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, or conducting a task to test out the validity of a particular belief.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is time-limited and brief, usually lasting between 6 and 20 sessions. Sessions may be weekly or fortnightly, usually lasting an hour. Towards the end, the sessions may taper off gradually.

Does CBT Work?

CBT is an approach based on evidence of its effectiveness. Evidence from NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) suggests that CBT is as effective as medication for treating depression and more effective than medication in preventing relapse. It has been identified as the treatment of choice for generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and for depression. It has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders, panic attacks, pain and childhood emotional disorders.