Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave in the here and now regardless of your past experiences. CBT is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

How CBT Works

CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. You are shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel. Therefore, unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis. CBT has been shown to be an effective way of treating a number of mental health conditions as well as alleviating the emotional suffering in chronic physical health conditions and chronic pain. Although CBT cannot cure the physical symptoms of these conditions, it can help people cope better and have again more meaningful lives. 

What happens during CBT sessions?

The therapist will always firstly carry out a careful psychological assessment of your needs, including whether CBT would be suitable. If so, you will usually have a session with a therapist once a week. The course of treatment usually lasts for between 5 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting usually 50 minutes. During the sessions, you will work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions. You and your therapist will examine these areas to work out which of your thoughts and actions may be unhelpful, and to determine the consequences they have. Your therapist will then be able to help you work out new, alternative thought and behavioural patterns reflecting your circumstances more accurately, and they will encourage you to take notes from your sessions (a habit linked to good treatment outcomes). After this, your therapist will ask you to practise these new patterns in your daily life, and you will then discuss how you got on during the next session. This usually means doing agreed home work exercises (and thereby extending your treatment beyond the therapy session in order to maximise the benefit). 

The key to good CBT is collaboration - you will be expected to work as a partner with your therapist while being equally responsible for the outcome of your treatment. The eventual aim of CBT is to teach you to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life i.e. ultimately, becoming your own therapist. This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life, even after your course of treatment finishes.

For more information please visit The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)