Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Explains what cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is, what it is for, what happens during therapy and how to find a therapist.

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talking treatment which focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.

It combines cognitive therapy (examining the things you think) and behaviour therapy (examining the things you do).

Making sense of CBT

CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is one of the most common treatments for a range of mental health problems, from anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD or schizophrenia.

"I have depression. [CBT is] very, very good for helping [me] not listen to [my] self critical voice, which is so damaging."

What's the theory behind CBT?

CBT is based on the idea that the way we think about situations can affect the way we feel and behave. For example, if you interpret a situation negatively then you might experience negative emotions as a result, and those bad feelings might then lead you to behave in a certain way.

How does negative thinking start?

Negative thinking patterns can start from childhood onwards. For example, if you didn't receive much attention or praise from your parents or teachers at school, you might've thought "I'm useless, I'm not good enough".

Over time you might come to believe these assumptions, until as an adult these negative thoughts become automatic. This way of thinking might then affect how you feel at work, university or in your general life.

If your negative interpretation of situations goes unchallenged, then these patterns in your thoughts, feelings and behaviour can become part of a continuous cycle:

How does CBT work?

In CBT you work with a therapist to identify and challenge any negative thinking patterns and behaviour which may be causing you difficulties. In turn this can change the way you feel about situations, and enable you to change your behaviour in future.

You and your therapist might focus on what is going on in your life right now, but you might also look at your past, and think about how your past experiences impact the way you see the world.

"CBT is learning to stop the cycle of negative thinking. I still have relapses now and it is the one tool that I use to get me out of the truly dark spots."

Holly's mental health story

Holly talks about how CBT has helped her with her mental health.

This information was published in October 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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