What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2011.  All rights reserved.

CBT workshops and courses run by the UK College

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the form of psychological therapy or “psychotherapy”, that has the strongest support from current research evidence.  It’s used to treat anxiety, depression, and a wide range of other emotional and behavioural problems.  “Cognition” is a broad term that refers to both underlying beliefs and specific thoughts, including both statements that you say to yourself and mental images.  So cognitive-behavioural therapy helps you to change your thoughts and behaviour in certain ways, in order to change negative emotions.

CBT basically developed out of an earlier approach called “behaviour therapy.”  It’s steadily grown in popularity since the 1960s, when behaviour therapy was introduced, because it’s accumulated support from a large body of scientific research studies.  The research evidence lends support both to the theory and concepts upon which CBT is based and the therapeutic techniques which it employs.

However, because CBT is continually adapted in light of current research, it has evolved over time.  There are several different types of CBT and different approaches tend to be used for different problems, depending on what research has shown to be most effective.  For example, some forms of CBT place more emphasis on your thinking (cognitions) and are sometimes called “cognitive therapy” whereas other forms place more emphasis on your behaviour and may therefore be called “behaviour therapy.”  Most experts consider cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy to be closely-related species of “cognitive-behavioural therapy.”

Although CBT varies considerably, as we’ve seen, there are some broad generalisations that can be made about it,

  1. It’s normally brief, time-limited therapy, lasting roughly 5-20 sessions, depending on the problem, although longer-term variations exist for more chronic conditions.
  2. It tends to focus more on the “here and now” and to begin by looking at specific thoughts and symptoms, with greater focus on underlying beliefs and past history in later sessions, where necessary.
  3. It reduces the number of sessions required by adopting a flexible structure, including agenda-setting for each session, and planned homework assignments between sessions.
  4. It emphasises a type of therapist-client relationship called “collaborative empiricism”, in which therapist and client work together to conceptualise problems and test out therapeutic solutions.
  5. It generally focuses on the role that thoughts and beliefs have in influencing behaviour and emotions.
  6. It often uses a method called “Socratic questioning” to help you explore the personal meaning of events and test out the validity and accuracy of negative thoughts and beliefs.
  7. It tends to involve facing your fears in graduated steps and stages and learning specific coping skills or strategies.
  8. It’s based on concepts and principles derived from mainstream psychological research.

See the links and video clip below for more information…

Additional Information

CBT workshops and courses run by the UK College

Information leaflet on CBT from the Royal College of Psychiatrists

NHS Choices article on CBT

Leaflet on CBT from MIND, the National Mental Health Charity

Wikipedia article on CBT

Video of Prof. David Clark discussing CBT courtesy of NHS Choices

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