CBT is a structured, time-limited, problem-focused and goal oriented form of psychotherapy. CBT helps people learn to identify, question and change how their thoughts, attitudes and beliefs relate to the emotional and behavioural reactions that cause them difficulty.
What is Cognitive behavioural therapy?
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 time-limited (usually 6-20 sessions)
is problem-focused and goal-oriented
teaches strategies and skills
is based on a proactive, 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.
How does Cognitive behavioural therapy work?
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.
The CBT model is built on a two-way relationship between thoughts (“cognitions”) and behaviours. Each can influence the other.
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).
CBT and self-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:
professionally supported self-management.
Who can Cognitive behavioural therapy benefit?
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:
generalized anxiety disorder
posttraumatic stress disorder
schizophrenia and psychosis
substance use disorders.
Frequently asked questions
How will I know if CBT is for me?
Most people know within the first few sessions if they are comfortable with CBT and whether it is meeting their treatment needs. When the "fit" is not quite right, the therapist may adjust the treatment or suggest other treatment options.
In general, CBT may be a good therapy option if:
you are interested in learning practical skills to manage your day-to-day life
you are interested in practicing change strategies ("homework") between sessions to consolidate improvement.
CBT may not be for you if you want to focus exclusively on past issues or if you want supportive counselling.
How long does CBT last?
CBT is a time-limited, focused treatment approach. For problems such as anxiety and depression, CBT usually involves 12 to 20 sessions. However, the length of treatment can vary, depending on the severity and complexity of your problems—some people improve significantly in four to six sessions, while others may need more than 20 sessions.
What can I expect on my first visit with a CBT therapist?
At your first visit, you and the CBT therapist will discuss:
the nature and causes of your difficulties and factors that could be maintaining them
how the therapist will apply the CBT model to your specfic problems
how the tasks that you will do in therapy can work to change different aspects of the problems