What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps a person to change unhelpful or unhealthy thinking habits, feelings and behaviours.

CBT involves the use of practical self-help strategies, which are designed to bring about positive and immediate changes in the person’s quality of life.

The main focus of CBT is that thoughts, feelings and behaviours combine to influence a person’s quality of life. For example, severe shyness in social situations (social phobia) may come from the person thinking that other people will always find them boring or stupid. This belief causes the person to feel extremely anxious in social situations.

Their behaviour may include stammering, sweating and other uncomfortable symptoms. The person then feels overwhelmed with negative emotions (such as shame) and negative self-talk (‘I’m such an idiot’). Their fear of social situations may become worse with every bad experience.

CBT aims to teach people that it is possible to have control over their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. CBT helps the person to challenge and overcome automatic beliefs, and use practical strategies to change or modify their behaviour. The result is more positive feelings, which in turn lead to more positive thoughts and behaviours.

Many techniques are available. One technique involves asking the person to come up with evidence to ‘prove’ that they are unlovable. This may include prompting the person to acknowledge the family and friends who love and respect them. This evidence helps the person to realise that their belief is false. This is called ‘cognitive restructuring’. The person learns to identify and challenge negative thoughts, and replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts.

Behavioural therapy teaches the person more helpful behaviours. For example, they may be taught conversational skills that they practise in therapy and in social situations. Negative thoughts and feelings reduce as the person discovers they can enjoy themselves in social situations.

The use of CBT

CBT is used to treat a range of psychological problems including:

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders such as social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncontrollable anger
  • Irrational fears
  • Hypochondria
  • Substance abuse, like smoking, drinking or other drug use
  • Problem gambling
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Marriage or relationship problems
  • Certain emotional or behavioural problems in children or teenagers.