Overview - Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

It's most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

How CBT works

CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a negative cycle.

CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.

You're shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.

Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past.

It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.

Uses for CBT

CBT has been shown to be an effective way of treating a number of different mental health conditions.

In addition to depression or anxiety disorders, CBT can also help people with:

CBT is also sometimes used to treat people with long-term health conditions, such as:

Although CBT cannot cure the physical symptoms of these conditions, it can help people cope better with their symptoms.

What happens during CBT sessions

If CBT is recommended, you'll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every 2 weeks.

The course of treatment usually lasts for between 6 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes.

During the sessions, you'll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions.

You and your therapist will analyse these areas to work out if they're unrealistic or unhelpful, and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you.

Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

After working out what you can change, your therapist will ask you to practise these changes in your daily life and you'll discuss how you got on during the next session.

The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life.

This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life, even after your course of treatment finishes.

Pros and cons of CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective in treating some mental health problems, but it may not be successful or suitable for everyone.

Some of the advantages of CBT include:

Some of the disadvantages of CBT to consider include:

Some critics also argue that while CBT addresses current problems and focuses on specific issues, it does not address the possible underlying causes of mental health conditions, such as an unhappy childhood.

How to find a CBT therapist

You can get talking therapies, including CBT, on the NHS.

You can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a referral from a GP.

Find an NHS talking therapies service

Or your GP can refer you if you prefer.

If you're under 18, or want to get help for someone under 18, find out how to get mental health support for children and young people.

If you can afford it, you can choose to pay for your therapy privately. The cost of private therapy sessions varies. It usually costs £60 to £100 per session, but lower rates may be available to those on lower incomes.

You can check if a CBT therapist is accredited, or find an accredited therapist near you, on the CBT Register UK website.