What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions

Written by spunout


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a very specific form of therapy that can be used to treat many types of mental health problems. Research shows that it is effective for a wide range of disorders, from anxiety to depression to phobias.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a combination of two schools of psychology: behavioural psychology and cognitive psychology.

CBT works on the premise that our thoughts affect our behaviours and feelings, and that it is our thoughts that make us feel bad rather than our life circumstances or situations.

It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety disorders (such as post traumatic stress disorder and OCD), eating disorders, phobias and depression.

  • Each session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes
  • You can have CBT on its own or combine it with medication

How does CBT work?

If you would like to try CBT, your GP can refer you to a qualified practitioner.

The CBT practitioner will have a general chat with you about your feelings and particular problems at the first session. You will then decide together if CBT will work in your situation.

  • The CBT therapist will help you to break your problems down into smaller areas so that you can figure out what the areas of concern are
  • They may then write down your feelings, thoughts and behaviours on a whiteboard or notepad so that you can clearly see your own patterns in these areas
  • You will then be asked to consider how your thoughts and feelings could be having an impact on your life

For example, if someone ignores you in the street, you might automatically think that it means they hate you. The therapist will help you to challenge thoughts like this and to consider other angles.

Most CBT involves written work. So you'll probably be asked to keep a diary so that you can identify your common patterns, emotions and actions and how they influence your life and whether they are positive or negative.

You may also be asked to do extra reading and CBT practice at home. If you have a phobia, you may be asked to gradually expose yourself to your fear while using the CBT techniques you have learned.

Is CBT for me?

CBT does involve work on your part, so if you can't do some work on your own time or are not motivated to do so, CBT will not be a good fit for you.

On the other hand, if you find CBT helpful you will have learnt self-awareness and strategies that you can use throughout your lifetime.

If you want to get a taste of CBT or try it at home, check out the MoodGym programme. It's free and run by the Australian National University.

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