for better mental health

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.

Is CBT right for me?

Although many people can benefit from CBT, not everyone finds it helpful. You might find that it just doesn't suit you, or doesn't meet your needs.

"I think it can go either way. I've been through a long course of CBT a few years ago, and for some people it helped, whereas for others it didn't."

Before deciding to have CBT, it might be helpful to think about the following:

  • Is short-term therapy right for me? If you have severe or complex problems, you may find a short-term therapy like CBT is less helpful. Sometimes, therapy may need to go on for longer to cover fully the number of problems you have, and the length of time they've been around.
  • Am I comfortable thinking about my feelings? CBT can involve becoming aware of your anxieties and emotions. Initially, you may find this process uncomfortable or distressing.
  • How much time do I want to spend? CBT can involve exercises for you to do outside of your sessions with a therapist. You may find this means you need to commit your own time to complete the work over the course of treatment, and afterwards.
  • Do I have a clear problem to solve? You may find CBT is less suitable if you feel generally unhappy or unfulfilled, but don't have troubling symptoms or a particular aspect of your life you want to work on.

"I found the first month so terrifying and draining because it dragged up things from the past that I never knew had impacted on me..."

Comparisons with other types of short-term psychological therapy aren't clear-cut. Some people find other talking treatments effective, including psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy, humanistic therapies, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and arts therapies.

There are a lot of different models of therapy and more research needs to be done on what works when and for whom. You can talk to your doctor about which treatment is most suitable for you. (See our A-Z of talking treatments for more information on some of these topics.)

What if I don’t find CBT helpful or my problem comes back?

Not everyone finds that the course of CBT they've been offered helps as much as they'd like. In this case you might want to think about the options below.

  • Talk to your CBT therapist about your feelings (if you are currently receiving CBT). They may be able to talk through your concerns and help you get more out of the sessions.
  • Find a different therapist. If things don’t feel right, or you don’t have a good relationship with your therapist, you may not get the most out of your sessions. You might find that you have a very different experiences with a different therapist. Talk to your GP or the organisation giving you CBT about seeing someone else.
  • Ask your GP for a longer course, or a different treatment. Try to be honest about how you feel and what you need. (See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more tips on how to talk to your doctor.)

"I had previously tried [CBT] when I was first diagnosed, which I didn’t find helpful ... however the second time I tried it, it completely changed my life."

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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