What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

By Max Lloyd


CBT is a combination of several therapeutic approaches developed during the latter half of the 20 th century: behavioural therapy and cognitive therapy. As well, the more up-to-date forms of CBT acknowledge the influence of emotions on both thinking and behaviour. However, in CBT cognition is seen as being primary. CBT involves examining thoughts, attitudes and beliefs (called cognitive processes) and the emotions, physiology and behaviours that are influenced by these cognitions. More recently, CBT has been blended with meditation techniques such as mindfulness to develop a powerful way of breaking negative patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour.

It is based on the assumption that unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling and behaving have been learned over a long period of time. By utilising a variety of structured techniques, the CBT therapist aims to work collaboratively with the client to identify those aspects of thinking which cause problematic feelings and behaviour. Practicing new behaviours is an integral part of the therapy and is often scheduled as client tasks between sessions (homework).

CBT has proven application in a number of areas, in particular:

It is well-researched and has been presented in a number of academic studies. No other modality of psychotherapy has the track record of CBT in terms of outcome research.

CBT is usually a short-term treatment lasting between 8 and 20 sessions. The exact number of sessions depends on the nature of the problem, the commitment of the client and the existence of any complicating factors. A major aim of the treatment is for client and therapist to work in partnership to change the client’s behaviour. Common CBT techniques include challenging irrational beliefs, replacing them with healthier alternative ones, exposure, assertiveness, activity scheduling, desensitisation and cognitive rehearsal. It is a structured, focused treatment modality which targets ways to achieve beneficial change, as opposed to simply providing an explanation for behaviour (insight).