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Explains what cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is, what it is for, what happens during therapy and how to find a therapist.
CBT is usually a short-term treatment, so you wouldn't be expected to continue with the treatment for a long time. For example, a course of CBT might be delivered in 12 hour-long weekly sessions, spread across 12 weeks. In some areas, you may be offered four sessions initially, with the opportunity for more if you need them. These sessions might be delivered:
CBT should only be delivered by a trained healthcare professional. Refresher CBT programmes may be available if you have already completed a course of CBT (your GP may know more about options in your area).
A typical structure of a CBT session may include the following:
"My therapist gives me goals that I must achieve before the next session. They are challenging, yet achievable."
CBT teaches coping skills for dealing with different problems. You may learn ways of coping with different situations, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For example:
"It can be daunting when faced with a list of things you can't do, but CBT helped me to break up my goals into manageable chunks."
One to one CBT can bring you into a kind of relationship you may not have had before.
CBT favours an equal, non-judgemental relationship between you and your therapist. They should seek your views and reactions to your experiences, which then shape the way your therapy progresses. The collaborative style means that you are actively involved in the therapy.
This therapeutic relationship may help you feel able to open up and talk about things that are difficult or personal to you.
"I was encouraged to try [CBT] again with a different therapist and have just had my 3rd session. I like the therapist and am getting on much better.....the therapist makes a BIG difference!"
It is possible to do CBT by yourself, through a self-help book or online. You may find that it’s helpful to try while you are waiting for further treatment – or to remind yourself of some of the techniques.
But research suggests that CBT is usually more effective if you’re working with a therapist. And some specific kinds of CBT treatments aren’t suitable to try on your own (for example exposure and response prevention for OCD) – in this case getting support from a therapist is really important.
Talk to your healthcare professional about whether it might help to do some CBT by yourself while you are waiting.
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.