What is CBT? – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological therapy that is widely used to treat a range of emotional problems. The basic premise of this form of therapy is that our emotions are the result of our interpretation of events (beliefs/schemas), and not necessarily based on the event themselves. Unhelpful thoughts can lead to emotional distress, and also maladaptive behavioural responses. This in turn can lead to problems living in a way consistent with one’s goals and values.

CBT aims to assist the individual to uncover unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving, and then to challenge these patterns and develop more balanced emotional and behavioural responses. CBT is structured and goal orientated, and aims to teach the client a range of strategies that they can use to mange their feelings everyday, so that they can take control of their life and their future. CBT has been found to be as effective as medication in the short-term in the treatment of depression, and more effective in the long-term, as it teaches strategies that the client can continue to use following the end of treatment.

CBT sessions usually last 1 hour and the therapeutic programme is more short-term than other types of therapy styles such as psychoanalytic therapy. A CBT programme might involve between 6 and 25 sessions depending on the nature of the presenting issue. The therapy plan is based on the specific needs of each individual; however, therapy might include some or all of the following elements:

  • Assessment and goal setting;
  • Mutual formulation of the problem (e.g. what has caused it and what is maintaining it);
  • Psychoeducation about the particular problem being addressed;
  • Cognitive restructuring to tackle unhelpful thinking patterns;
  • Behavioural interventions to address unhelpful ways of behaving (e.g. exposure therapy, increase engagement in pleasant activities etc.);
  • Problem solving;
  • Coping skills development (e.g. relaxation training, communication skills, assertiveness skills, conflict resolution, sleep hygiene etc.); and
  • Relapse prevention.