About Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

two young men sat together on their phones.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a form of therapy that deals mostly with your thoughts and how they affect your behaviour. A typical course of NHS CBT lasts between 8-10 sessions. It’s typically defined as talking therapy that’s designed to help you rationalise how you’re thinking. The outcome of CBT is usual a change in attitude and behaviour. This is done through talking through your beliefs, attitudes and thoughts.

CBT is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but it might be used for other mental health conditions too.

What does a CBT session involve? 

Firstly, your therapist should outline all of this at the beginning of your treatment, and you can ask! Secondly, your therapist or counsellor should listen to you to find out exactly what’s troubling you. They should empathetic and non-judgemental.

Beyond that, a typical CBT session should include:

  • finding out about situations or issues that are troubling you
  • helping you identify your emotional responses to these situations
  • identifying patterns of negative or inaccurate thinking
  • working with your therapist to challenge these beliefs, fears and potential phobias

Therapist should work at your pace, so don’t worry about talking about something before you’re ready. However, it’s worth reminding counselling or therapy can be challenging at times, and bring up some things that might be difficult to acknowledge or remember.

For more advice on the relationship with your therapist, see our article.

Can counselling make you worse?

Some people worry therapy might make things even worse. This can happen sometimes. this is because starting therapy can stir up emotions that you weren’t aware of or had tried to ignore. This is normal, but can be tough. There are some other potential issues with CBT also, for example you:

  • Might try CBT and find it doesn’t work for you
  • Could try a behaviour before you’re ready and feel anxious or scared
  • Could end up analysing your thoughts too much, instead of just enough (aka become too good at CBT!)

Remember, that it’s a process and your therapist is on hand to help you with any issues. Also remember that there are loads of different therapies out there and that CBT is not the only psychotherapy. So, if it doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you’re beyond help, it just means something else is better suited! There are lots of different ways to get mental health support, so try not to worry if CBT just wasn’t for you. 

What is exposure therapy?

Exposure therapy is a form of CBT where you’re asked to do something that makes you scared or uncomfortable. This could be going into a public place if you have agoraphobia, or not double checking things if you have OCD. Through this, you learn to tolerate the horrible feelings you have when you face your fears and over time, this helps you cope better.

This type of therapy won’t happen if you don’t feel ready, and your therapist will discuss this with you. It also sounds terrifying, but the aim of the therapy is to help you recognise that when we face our fears we can realise that lots of them are irrational.

I can’t afford therapy

CBT is currently very accessible. It’s the most common talking therapy on the NHS. This means the first step to getting free CBT is visiting your doctor. If you don’t want to go to your doctor, Mind can help you find local organisations that provide free or low-cost therapy.

Can I do CBT on my own? 

Everyone can practice some CBT by themselves, but sometimes symptoms are too severe and need outside support. This includes if you suffer from OCD or anxiety disorder. It’s absolutely not a failing to need to go to therapy or counselling. It can be really helpful and give you additional guidance on how to manage your behaviours and thoughts.

Online CBT is becoming popular too. You can read our article on online counselling to find out more. Additionally, we also offer free counselling. It might not be a CBT session, but it’s ideal for anyone look for free, short term help over the phone.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Toni

Updated on 24-Sep-2020