What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a therapy designed to work exclusively with cognitions. It is a modality used to teach an individual techniques and applications for monitoring and modifying their thought processes in order to change their emotional states. Undertaking CBT therapy means looking at your behaviours in context of your thoughts. It is also problem focused, relying on explicit goals set through collaboration between the client and the therapist, usually ensuring a short-term encounter with a clearly defined outcome that both client and practitioner are aiming to achieve.

History of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT was created by Aaron Beck in the late 1960s while looking at means to conceptualise depression. He discovered techniques for helping patients to identify and evaluate automatic forms of thinking, which led to the formulation of Cognitive Therapy. Combined with concepts from Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy that was first presented int he 1950s, this developed into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Because CBT is solution focused and often relies on questionnaires and empirical validation to define levels of anxiety and depression in an individual, a consistent measure was able to be applied. Results of trials and tests were presented to the UK government in 2005 and CBT was finally introduced as part of the Increased Access to Psychological Therapies program in 2007.

Key Terms in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

  • Negative Automatic Thoughts
  • Core Beliefs
  • Overgeneralisation
  • Catastrophising
  • Mind Reading
  • Selective Abstraction
  • Splitting / Dichotomous Thinking
  • Dysfunctional Assumptions

Where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is useful

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a fantastic way to train your own thinking and provide you with the tools and techniques required to facilitate and empower productive, positive and powerful patterns of thinking while also identifying and clarifying your own thinking patterns and core beliefs about yourself. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be extremely useful for the following:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Negative self-esteem
  • Creating perspective on problems and issues
  • Social anxiety
  • Immediate short-term improvements
  • Phobias
  • Work issues

Where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may not be useful

CBT is immensely popularised and it is one of the most common therapy modalities people without experience of therapy will refer to, largely due to its use in public services such as the government’s IAPT initiative and the marketable element of its short-term use and skill sets it develops and teaches.

Because CBT focuses solely on cognition there is a significant concern that when used in isolation CBT denies the legitimacy of people’s experiences and personal histories, relegating affective states to that of an afterthought which in context of subconscious processing could potentially have dangerous consequences.

The principle of CBT requires that cognition rules behaviour, and changing cognition will result in changes in feeling. Often this is the case, but with deep seated emotional problems this may not be sufficient as the cause and context of such emotional issues may not be fully discovered, explored and resolved. It can be potentially dangerous to presume that CBT will solve deep rooted psychological issues surrounding emotions, family history, trauma and abuse and often quick short term improvements may not result in longer term changing using CBT alone.

The techniques of CBT may significantly help one person where it may do nothing for another, a good therapist will be able to determine what the most appropriate approach is.

Further Resources

For more information on CBT please see the following: