Cognitive Behavioural Theory (CBT)

As a therapist, clients sometimes ask if they could have CBT treatment because they have read about it or a friend suggested it.

CBT is one modality of psychotherapy (talking treatment) and in this article; I will briefly describe this approach.

As psychology encompasses a vast domain and includes many different approaches to the study of mental processes and behaviour, I will in the next few months delineate the different approaches to psychological treatment.


CBT is a combination of cognitive therapy that helps with thinking processes, such as unwanted thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs (called cognitive processes) and behavioural therapy that focuses on behaviour in response to those thoughts.

CBT is one type of psychotherapy. Unlike other types of psychotherapy it does not involve ‘talking freely’, or dwell on events in your past to gain insight into your emotional state of mind. It is not a ‘lie on the couch and tell all’ type of therapy.

CBT tends to deal with the ‘here and now’, how your current thoughts and behaviour are affecting you now. It recognises that events in your past have shaped the way that you currently think and behave.

In particular, thought patterns and behaviour learned in childhood. However, CBT does not dwell on the past, but aims to find solutions as to how to change your current thoughts and behaviour so that you can function better in the future.

CBT is also different to counselling which is meant to be non-directive, empathic and supportive. Although the CBT therapist will offer support and empathy, the therapy has a structure, is problem-focused and practical.

CBT is the term for a number of therapies that are designed to help solve problems in peoples’ lives, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias, agoraphobia and social phobia
  • Bulimia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Some forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Drug misuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Low self-esteem/self-worth
  • Neurological (Chronic fatigue syndrome / Myalgic / ME)
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual and relationship issues
  • Smoking cessation

In the early sixties, American psychotherapist Dr Aaron Beck helped to develop CBT and believed that the way we think about a situation affects the way we act. CBT can help you change the way you think, (Cognitive) and what you do (Behaviour). These changes can help you feel better.

Unlike some of the other talking treatments, it focuses on the “here and now” problems and difficulties. Instead of focusing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind now.

How effective is CBT?

It is one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem.
It is as effective as antidepressants for many types of depression

Limitations of CBT.

CBT does not suit everyone and it is not helpful for all conditions.

You need to be very committed and persistent in tackling and improving your problem with the help of the therapist.

It can be hard work.

The ‘homework’ may be difficult and challenging. You may be taken Out of your comfort zone’ when tackling situations which cause anxiety or distress. However, many people have greatly benefited from a course.

Lastly, CBT is widely used in the UK NHS because of its success rate.