What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a relatively new psychotherapy which seeks to challenge and break down the negative thought and behaviour patterns that arise in the self. It can be tailored to focus on the specific needs of individuals that their mental heath disorders such as general anxiety disorder, low-self esteem and can also be used to treat mood disorders like depression.

Here in the UK cognitive behavioural therapy can be sought after privately and publicly through the NHS; go and speak to you GP if you think this is something you could benefit from and they’ll refer you. Depending upon the area your live and resources you might have a 2-4 month waiting list. There’s more information via the NHS website and through mental health charities such as Mind.

When starting cognitive behavioural therapy, individuals problems can be broken down into five main areas:

  • Situations
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Physical Feelings
  • Actions

The relationships between these five areas are broken down so the outcome becomes less overwhelming and you are able to work back and see how these areas are interconnected and influence each other. For example, a situation for the past might trigger bad thoughts and negative emotions.


Cognitive behavioural therapy is different from other types of therapy because of the following key points:

  • It follows a set structure involving tasks and exercises, rather than freely talking
  • There to solve problems and offer solutions
  • Focus on the here and now, not necessarily the past
  • Working collaboratively with the therapist to set goals and solutions, not the therapist giving advice or the patient just talking

We all react to situations in different ways but as an individual you may react to something concisely with a clear mind or in an irrational, illogical way fuelled by negative emotion. Each reaction depends upon the thought that arise in the mind.

For example, if you are someone who struggles with their weight and has tried many different diets and was bullied about their weight at school, you are repeatedly telling yourself you are a failure, ugly, unloveable and continuously experiencing feelings of hopelessness. These are negative thought patterns that become a cycle and apart of your everyday life.

The aim of CBT is to stop these negative thought cycles by breaking them down into manageable chunks and then offering solutions. This process starts with your therapist but has to be continued with the individual. The negative thought cycles do not stop right away; the first step in increasing awareness of the cycle and applying the tools and techniques learnt in CBT to break them down in the moment.


When compared with medication, CBT alone has been as effective when treating mental health conditions with less severe forms of depressions, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder and substance abuse. CBT is also recommended in combination with medication.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is an evidence based practice that is a model based upon the basic principles of behavioural and cognitive psychology. A more recent phase of development is into mindfulness based therapies which are becoming more and more popular in western culture.

Read next: ‘5 quick tips to reduce stress

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