What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used to address different kinds of mental health issues. Read on to learn about what CBT is and how it works, what kind of things you typically do in a CBT session and how to begin this kind of treatment.

Read this if:

  • You’re thinking about having therapy
  • You’re wondering if CBT would be helpful for you
  • You have lots of negative thoughts and wonder if therapy could help

girl talking to counsellor

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a particular type of treatment that psychologists use with their clients. It involves looking at the link between thoughts, feelings and actions, and how these might be contributing to an individual’s problem.  It has become one of the most popular types of therapy, probably because sessions are structured, collaborative and based on lots of research. This research shows that CBT can be effective among lots of different mental health conditions. Some of these include:

  • Anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social phobia
  • Mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorders
  • Bulimia and other eating disorders
  • Other issues like anger, stress and gambling problems

How does CBT work?

CBT varies a bit depending on the problem being tackled. It involves looking closer at the thoughts and behaviours associated with a problem. 

Have you ever noticed that certain thoughts can make you feel down, which might affect how you act? For example, if Jamie failed an important exam, she might think “I’m useless, I’ll never get a job after this!” Understandably, this would make her feel pretty upset and worthless. Feeling this way might stop her from wanting to see her friends, go back to class or even make her think that there is not point studying for the next test. CBT would help Jamie learn to look at her thoughts and question how true and helpful they are for her. 

Learning how to look closely at thoughts and resulting feelings and actions is a skill that people can then apply to future thoughts and problems.

What will CBT be like?

A typical CBT program lasts between five and twenty weeks, but this depends on what the issue is. Sessions are normally once a week, but it is likely that you’ll be given ‘homework tasks’ to do in between sessions. This might include keeping a record of certain thoughts and feelings, completing worksheets, or even doing small challenges.  

How can I begin CBT?

CBT is mostly practiced by trained psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses. It’s really important to seek therapy with someone who has had proper training. To find someone suitable, you can:
  • Speak to your GP and ask for a referral to a CBT therapist
  • See your school counsellor (or university counsellor) and ask for a referral to a CBT therapist
  • Go to the Australian Psychologist Society website and click on their “Find a Psychologist” tab

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 30 October, 2015
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