Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and therefore behave.
It is often successfully used to treat anxiety and depression, but is useful for a range of mental and physical health problems, in addition to related issues like sleep etc.
CBT can help you deal with your negative thoughts and behaviours in a more positive way, therefore changing your emotions.
CBT is the idea that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings, often coming from an event, can trap you in a vicious cycle where negative thoughts become dominant.
CBT aims to help you break this cycle by highlighting problem thinking areas and suggesting how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you think and feel.
CBT deals with your current issues, rather than events from your past. Practical ways to improve your state of mind are explored on a daily basis and therefore requires a person to complete simple exercises and keep records (e.g. thoughts diaries etc.).
Read more about how CBT works.
When is CBT used?
CBT has been shown to be an effective way of treating a number of different mental health conditions the below are examples.
In addition to depression or anxiety disorders, CBT is also used to support:
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- sleep problems, such as insomnia
- problems related to alcohol misuse
CBT may also be used to treat people with long-term health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CBT does not cure the physical symptoms of these health conditions, but it can help people cope better with their symptoms through developing their thinking styles.
Finding a CBT therapist
If you think you may need support from a CBT therapist the first step is usually to speak to your GP. CBT may be available free on the NHS, although there may be a waiting list. Find psychological therapy services (IAPT). Private therapy is available but the cost of session will vary.
If you are considering having CBT privately, ask your GP if they can suggest a local therapist.
What happens during CBT sessions?
If CBT is recommended, you will usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two weeks.
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 analyse these areas to work out if they are unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you. Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
Once the area of change has been identified your therapist will ask you to practise these changes in your daily life and you will discuss how you got on during the next session.
The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you have leant during treatment to your daily life. Therefore you are able to manage your problems and prevent them having a negative impact on your life.
Pros and cons of CBT
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of CBT.
Research has shown that CBT can be as effective as medication in treating some mental health problems. Compared to other talking therapies CBT can also be completed over a relatively short period of time.
However, to benefit from CBT, you need to commit yourself to the process a therapist can help and advise you, but they cannot make your problems go away without your full cooperation. This also includes practising the exercises and recording your thoughts appropriately to fully benefit from CBT
Also due to the structured nature of CBT it may not be suitable for people with more complex mental health needs or learning difficulties.
Types of CBT
CBT can be carried out in several different forms, including:
- individual therapy one-to-one sessions with a therapist
- group therapy with others who may have similar issues to be resolved
- a self-help book – exercises that can be practised from a book
- a computer program – known as computerised CBT (CCBT)