Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Navigate Up

Exciting Announcement: New CAMH.CA website is launching late April 2018

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

What is Cognitive-behaviou​ral therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a practical, short-term form of psychotherapy. It helps people to develop skills and strategies for becoming and staying healthy.

CBT focuses on the here-and-now—on the problems that come up in day-to-day life. CBT helps people to examine how they make sense of what is happening around them and how these perceptions affect the way they feel.


  • is structured
  • is time-limited (usually 6-20 sessions)
  • is problem-focused and goal-oriented
  • teaches strategies and skills
  • is based on a poaitive, shared therapeutic relationship between therapist and client

In this video, Dr. Zindel Segal, a CBT expert, discusses how CBT works. The video also features people explaining how CBT helped them deal with various mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia.

CBT mo​del

The CBT model is built on a two-way relationship between thoughts (“cognitions”) and behaviours. Each can influence the other.

CBT model


There are three levels of cognition:

  • Conscious thoughts: Rational thoughts and choices that are made with full awareness.
  • Automatic thoughts: Thoughts that flow rapidly, so that you may not be fully aware of them. This may mean you can’t check them for accuracy or relevance. In a person with a mental health problem, these thoughts may not be logical.
  • Schemas: Core beliefs and personal rules for processing information. Schemas are shaped by influences in childhood and other life experiences.


Behaviour can be changed using techniques such as self-monitoring, activity scheduling (for depression) and exposure and response prevention (for anxiety).

What happens in C​BT?

In CBT, clients learn to identify, question and change the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs related to the emotional and behavioural reactions that cause them difficulty.

By monitoring and recording thoughts during upsetting situations, people learn that how they think can contribute to emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. CBT helps to reduce these emotional problems by teaching clients to:

  • identify distortions in their thinking
  • see thoughts as ideas about what is going on, rather than as facts
  • stand back from their thinking to consider situations from different viewpoints.

Where is CBT ​used?

There has been a lot of research on CBT. Evidence suggests that it is particularly effective in treating anxiety and depression. CBT has also been tailored to other specific problems. 

For example, CBT is also used to treat:

  • bipolar disorder
  • eating disorders
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • panic disorder
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • schizophrenia and psychosis
  • specific phobias
  • substance use disorders.

CBT and se​lf-help

There are many self-help books and websites based on cognitive-behavioural principles. Evidence shows that these resources are more useful when the person also gets support from a therapist, especially if he or she experiences low mood. CBT-based self-help approaches include:

  • computer-based CBT
  • professionally supported self-management.

Related therapies

Other therapies that are related to CBT include:

  • dialectical behaviour therapy
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
  • relapse prevention. 

Where can I find help, treatment and support?​​

Treatment at CAMH

Help for families and friends

Ontario Mental Health Helpline(open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)

Where can I find Information for clients and families related to CBT?​

MoodGYM (interactive program, Flash plug-in required)​

CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
Connex Ontario Help Lines
Queen St.
1001 Queen St. W
Toronto, ON
M6J 1H4
Russell St.
33 Russell St.
Toronto, ON
M5S 2S1
College St.
250 College St.
Toronto, ON
M5T 1R8
Ten offices across Ontario