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What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?



Behavioural therapy refers to a number of therapies or techniques used for treating mental health issues. The premise of behaviour therapy is that all behaviour is learned and, as such, any unhealthy or self-destructive behaviour can be unlearned. Behavioural therapy is often used for the treatment of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, depression and addictions.

Behavioural therapists look not only at clients’ behaviours but also their thoughts and feelings that lead to these behaviours. The aim of this therapy is to help clients learn more positive actions and thus eliminate (or minimise) their existing issues.

Who can benefit from behavioural therapy?

Behavioural therapy can benefit adults and children. It can be used to help people with many issues.
It is most commonly used to treat:
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Anger
• Panic


It can also help with:
• Substance abuse
• Eating disorders
• Self harm
• Phobias
• Bipolar disorders

Examples of behavioural therapy

  • System Desensitisation: (often used to treat phobias) Clients are taught to replace fear responses with relaxation or breathing techniques, and then slowly exposed to their triggers to practice these new skills.
  • Aversion Therapy: (Often used to treat substance abuse) Clients are taught to connect the desirable but unhealthy stimulus with an exceptionally unpleasant and uncomfortable stimulus e.g., using a nausea inducing drug with alcoholics so that alcohol produces a memory of vomiting.
  • Flooding: (Often used to treat phobias and anxiety) Clients are exposed to situations they are afraid of in a concentrated and fast manner. The client can’t escape the situation and so must confront things “head on’. As this continues with no bad results, the less fearful the client becomes.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): (combining behavioural therapy with cognitive therapy). CBT looks at how a client’s thoughts influence their actions and moods. The aim is to modify a person’s thinking, and thus behaviour patterns, to healthier, more positive ones.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Research has indicated that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for a range of mental health concerns. You may see or hear CBT referred to as being “evidence based”.

The goal of CBT is to help clients identify their unhelpful thoughts, teach that it is possible to control and modify these thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and demonstrate practical self-help strategies to do this. The aim of CBT is to initiate immediate positive changes in the client’s quality of life, as increased positive thoughts and feelings lead to more positive behaviour. It is based on the idea that negative thinking is a habit that can be broken and positive thinking is a skill that can be learned.

How does cognitive behaviour therapy work?

CBT usually includes:
• Assessment – You describe the problems you are experiencing and identify any distressing symptoms, thoughts and/or behaviours.
• Education – Knowledge is power – as you learn more about your particular issue, you are more able to disregard unfounded fears, ease anxiety, and negative feelings.
• Goal setting – You illuminate your goal for therapy and work out practical strategies that will help you fulfil these goals.
• Practice strategies – You practice your new strategies (perhaps role playing difficult social situations or positive self-talk).
• Homework – You need to participate actively in your own therapy and will be encouraged to use the practical strategies in daily life.

What is CBT used for?

CBT is used to treat a range of issues including:
• Depression
• Anxiety and anxiety disorders
• Phobias
• Anger
• Low self-esteem
• Substance abuse or misuse
• Addictions
• Eating disorders
• Emotional or behavioural problems in children or teenagers

Using CBT to treat Anxiety disorders

We all sometimes experience anxiety because of specific things or circumstances, however, for some people, the feeling of anxiety occurs more regularly. They feel constantly alert or fearful regardless of what is happening externally. This is distressing and gets in the way of daily life, interfering with their ability to function. CBT can be an effective treatment of anxiety disorders.

Using CBT to treat depression

People living with depression have ongoing negative feelings about themselves, others and the world. This pattern of negative thinking becomes automatic. CBT can help people with depression, equipping them with the tools to overcome negative thoughts and replace them with more positive and realistic thought processes.

Behavioural therapy for children

Applied behaviour therapy and play therapy can both be used with children. Children are taught different ways of responding more positively to situations where positive behaviour is rewarded and negative behaviour corrected – parents must then reinforce this in the child’s daily life. Children on the autism spectrum or those with ADHD can often benefit from behavioural therapy.

Who provides CBT?

Counsellors, psychologists, and therapists can all provide CBT, helping you to understand your thinking and behaviour. To discuss CBT or other behavioural therapies give Wellbeing Therapy Space a bell at