What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? All You Need To Know

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Welcome to today’s blog, where we will cover everything you need to know about cognitive behavioural therapy. You’ve probably heard of it before – most likely referred to by its acronym, CBT. Maybe you’ve been curious about how cognitive behavioral therapy could help you or what cognitive behavioral therapy even stands for. In either case, you’ve come to the right place.

CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy, is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that’s continually growing in popularity because of its effectiveness in helping people make positive changes to their mental health long term in a relatively short time window. It is a type of therapy where you learn to identify your present thought patterns and beliefs to change those that negatively influence your behaviors and emotions.

In this blog, we will explore everything there is to know about cognitive behavioural therapy, including who and why it can help, common techniques it uses.

What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps people understand and change their thoughts and behaviours. CBT is one of the most effective forms of therapy available today and has been shown to help people with a wide variety of mental health issues and disorders.

CBT can be used as a relatively short-term treatment, meaning you work with a therapist or counselor, following a structured plan for a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of your negative or inaccurate thinking throughout these sessions and start responding to life’s challenges more positively and effectively.

CBT can play a significant role in improving our mental health. CBT focuses on changing our automatic negative thoughts that typically only give way to or worsen our current emotional struggles.

All in all, the thing to remember about CBT is that it helps us identify and challenge spontaneous thoughts that seriously affect our mood – or difficulties like depression and anxiety – then replace them with realistic, objective thoughts.

Who developed cognitive behavioural therapy?

Dr. Aaron Beck, an American psychiatrist, developed cognitive behavioural therapy in the 1960s. He noticed that his patients with depression would often have negative thoughts about themselves, their lives, and the world around them, which only worsened their symptoms. He developed CBT to help these patients change the way they thought to start feeling better.

Dr. Beck passed away just a few short months ago, in November 2021, and we are grateful for all his efforts as one of the world’s leading psychopathology researchers.

How Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Work?

How we think about a situation affects our emotional response – that is the underlying concept of CBT. For example, if you believe that you are worthless and will never be successful, you’re likely to feel more depressed and hopeless than if you believe that you can overcome any obstacle.

CBT helps people with becoming more aware of their thoughts and how they affect their emotions. It then teaches them how to challenge and change these thoughts to feel better.

CBT is often described as a “problem-solving” approach to therapy because it helps people identify and address the thoughts and behaviours causing them difficulty.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Techniques

CBT incorporates many strategies that help individuals identify unhelpful thought patterns and learn how to overcome them. In addition to diary entry, journaling, mental distractions, role-playing, and relaxation techniques, here are a few of CBT’s effective techniques:

1. Identifying negative thoughts

This involves recognizing when you have negative thoughts about yourself, others, or your situation. Once you have identified these thoughts, you will start challenging and changing them.

2. Practicing new skills

This involves learning new skills to replace the unhelpful ones in real-life situations. For example, suppose you tend to ruminate (i.e., constantly think about and analyze your problems). In that case, you might practice problem-solving techniques to help you deal with difficult situations that cause you to dwell or overthink.

3. Cognitive restructuring

This group of techniques focuses on changing how people think about themselves, others, and their situations. This involves identifying and challenging unhelpful or inaccurate thinking patterns – such as destructive and self-defeating ones.

4. Goal setting

This involves setting realistic goals that are achievable and challenging. People in CBT will often set behavioural goals, such as reducing avoidance or increasing social interaction. That said, any type of goal setting to improve your life and health is helpful, and a therapist can teach you skills such as setting SMART goals.

5. Reframing

This technique is all about finding a different way to look at a situation. For example, if you usually view yourself as a victim, reframing would mean trying to view yourself as someone resilient.

6. Problem solving

This involves coming up with a plan to address problems caused by life stressors. This might include brainstorming possible solutions, choosing one that seems most likely to work, and testing it out to reduce a problem’s negative impact.

7. Challenging assumptions or fact-checking

This technique helps people question the evidence for their negative thoughts and assumptions. For example, if you think your boss hates you, ask yourself why you believe this and what evidence you have to support it.

8. Self monitoring

Self-monitoring is about tracking your thoughts, feelings, experiences, symptoms, and behaviours over some time. This “diary work” can help you see how your thoughts and behaviour relate to each other and how they affect your mood. This aspect of CBT also helps your therapist provide the most effective treatment.

Types of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT uses various approaches and techniques to help patients address their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. A few of these therapeutic approaches include:

1. Cognitive therapy (CT)

This approach helps people identify and challenge the thoughts that contribute to their emotional difficulties. CT is one of the most well-known and researched forms of CBT.

2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

This approach is designed to help people with borderline personality disorder, and it focuses on balancing acceptance and change. DBT uses a cognitive-behavioral framework and includes mindfulness skills training.

3. Exposure therapy

In exposure therapy, patients are gradually exposed to the things that cause them anxiety or distress. This can be done in vivo (in real life), in imaginal (imaginary), and even through virtual reality.

Exposure therapy is often used to treat social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. It is also the most effective psychological technique for treating anxiety disorders. However, it’s worth noting that this type of therapy can be challenging and lead to temporary anxiety or stress.

4. Multimodal therapy 

This approach is based on the idea that different people learn differently. As such, multimodal therapy uses various techniques, including CBT, to help people change their thoughts and behaviours. This approach is often used with children and adolescents.

5. Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) 

This approach helps people change how they think about themselves, the world, and their relationships. It is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected.

6. Cognitive processing therapy

CPT is a specific type of CBT designed to help people exposed to trauma, including those who have PTSD. It teaches patients how to evaluate then change upsetting thoughts experienced since their trauma. The underlying goal is to change how people feel by altering their thoughts.

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How To Get Started With Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

If you think that cognitive behavioural therapy may be a good fit for you, there some things to keep in mind when looking to get started:

  • Determine whether in-person or online therapy is the best fit for you and your current situation.
  • If you need help finding a licensed professional in your area, you can always ask your doctor. Also, check with your health insurance to see if they cover CBT and how many sessions.
  • The first step once you arrive is usually an assessment with the therapist, so be prepared to answer questions about your life and what brought you in for therapy. It is important to discuss any concerns or hesitations about starting CBT with a therapist before beginning sessions. They will help assess if CBT is the right fit for you first.

Cognitive behavioural therapy typically involves weekly sessions with a therapist. Sessions usually last between 30-60 minutes.

During therapy, you’ll work with your therapist to identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that contribute to your difficulties. You’ll then learn specific skills to address these problems. Sessions usually involve a combination of discussion and exercises.

Homework is also often assigned to help further the individual’s understanding and apply the skills learned in therapy.

The bottom line about cognitive behavioural therapy is it’s one of the most effective treatments for various mental health conditions. It can be helpful for those who have just started to experience symptoms and those who have been living with them for a long time. When a person learns how to become aware of and change their unhelpful thoughts or behaviours, it can reduce their symptoms and improve their overall life.

That said, CBT is also a therapy worth exploring if you want to learn more about how your internal states affect your outward behaviour and how you can alter them for the better!

If you think that CBT might be helpful for you, talk to your mental health care provider. They can help you find a therapist who specializes in CBT.

Who Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For?

CBT can be used to treat and manage the symptoms of a range of mental health conditions, including:

  • Phobias
  • Panic attacks
  • Addiction and substance abuse disorders
  • Anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, situational anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa
  • Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual disorders

CBT can also be helpful for problems such as stress and anger management, relationship problems and break-ups, and low-self esteem. CBT for insomnia is used often, t can also help those coping with grief, loss, or a medical illness, including chronic physical symptoms and pain.

While cognitive behavioural therapy can be an incredibly helpful tool for people with mental health disorders, it’s also important to note that anyone who wants to improve how they manage and respond to life’s stressors can benefit from CBT. You do not need to have a mental health condition that needs addressing to explore this therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions globally, affecting 350 million people worldwide. While there are many different ways to treat depression, cognitive behavioural therapy is often one of the most effective.

CBT helps people understand and change the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to their depression. For instance, a person who has depression may obsess over their shortcomings or wake up asking themselves what the point of even trying is. With CBT, you can learn to say, well, that’s not a helpful thought. A lot of good can come from just trying and getting the day started. 

It takes time and practice, but the change in your attitude and mindset will change your behavior. And for some people, CBT works just as well, if not better than medication for mild to moderate depression. However, it can still be helpful for severe depression but may need to be combined with antidepressants. 

What Are The Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

In addition to CBT being helpful for understanding and changing one’s thoughts and behaviours that contribute to their mental health issues, it can also help people manage symptoms and improve their relationships.

These are a few of the specific benefits of CBT:

  • It is an effective short-term treatment option for improved mental health and wellbeing. For instance, the total number of sessions one attends typically ranges from 12 to 20, where many notice improvements in as few as 5 sessions.
  • It tends to be more affordable than some other therapy types.
  • Research shows CBT is effective in-person and online.

One of the key features that sets CBT apart from other therapies is its focus on changing behaviours and thoughts. This means that CBT does not just deal with the symptoms of mental health issues but also looks to address the underlying causes.

CBT is also a short-term treatment option, which can be beneficial for those who are looking for a more targeted and time-limited approach.

Overall, one of the biggest benefits of CBT is that it helps individuals learn healthy coping skills that they can use now and into the future!

What Is The Goal Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

The underlying idea behind cognitive behavioural therapy is that our thoughts and feelings play a significant role in behaving.

CBT aims to teach people that they can control how to interpret and face things that happen in their environment, even though they cannot control everything.

The techniques taught in CBT then help people understand and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their issues and dampen their feelings and moods.

Possible Challenges Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Like any therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy may not be the best fit for everyone. Some potential challenges associated with CBT include:

  • The individual must do a fair amount of work outside of sessions, including homework and diary-keeping. That said, there must be a willingness to put in the effort and time to change.
  • It can require some effort to find a therapist who is qualified in CBT and who is a good fit for the individual. For example, for severe depression and other conditions, it’s ideal to have a highly skilled CBT therapist.
  • It can be challenging to confront situations and fears, as you would in exposure therapy. In either case, sessions can be emotional and leave you feeling drained.
  • CBT has a very structured style best suited for those okay with a focused approach and a therapist who takes on more of a teaching, instructional role.


An example of cognitive behavioral therapy is exposing yourself to situations that cause anxiety, like going into a crowded public space.

Cognitive behavioral therapy 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.

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