Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy used to address different kinds of mental health issues. Learn what CBT is, how it works, what kind of things you typically do in a CBT session and how to find a CBT therapist.

This can help if:

  • you’re thinking about trying therapy

  • you’re wondering if CBT would be helpful for you

  • you have lots of negative thoughts and wonder if therapy can help.

Boy with long hair talking to counsellor

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a particular type of treatment that psychologists use with their clients to address issues of anxiety, anger, depression and numerous other mental health problems. CBT involves looking at the link between a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions, and how each may affect that person’s perception and wellbeing. CBT has become one of the most popular types of therapy, probably because it’s generally short-term, goal-oriented, hands-on and has been proven to work. The research shows that CBT can be effective for treating lots of different mental health conditions, including:

  • anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder

  • mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder

  • bulimia nervosa and other eating difficulties

  • other issues such as anger, stress and problem gambling.

How does CBT work?

In general, CBT is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help a person change unhelpful or unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It’s based on the understanding that negative thinking is a bad habit that needs to be broken. The idea is to show a person how their negative thinking affects their mood, and prevents them from achieving their goals or living a full life. CBT involves learning practical self-help strategies for approaching challenges and problems in a more positive way.

Have you ever noticed that certain thoughts can make you feel down, which might affect what you feel like doing? For example, if Jamie fails an important exam, she may 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 or to go back to class. She may even decide that there’s no point in going to school at all. CBT would help Jamie become more aware of her negative thoughts, question how true and helpful they are, and develop skills to challenge those thoughts and change her behaviour.

What will CBT be like?

A typical CBT program lasts between five and 20 weeks, but this depends on what the issue is. Sessions are normally held once a week for an hour. You will also be given ‘homework tasks’ to do in between sessions. This might include keeping a record of certain thoughts and feelings, completing worksheets, or even taking on small challenges.

How can I find a CBT therapist?

CBT is mostly practised by psychologists and clinical psychologists. To find someone suitable, you can:

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