What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a practical treatment which helps people understand the interaction between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, beliefs and ideas affect the way we feel and act towards ourselves and others in daily life. Here is an example of how our thoughts can affect us:

Steve was at work and his boss completely ignored him in a meeting. The same boss later pointed out a mistake that Steve had made in a written report. Steve was convinced that his boss didn’t like him, that he was an incompetent worker and that he would ultimately lose his job because of it. He started to feel tense and anxious. His stomach started to churn and he couldn’t concentrate on his work. That night he didn’t sleep well and the next day he returned to work feeling tired, irritable and even more tense. Later on that day, he discovered that his boss had just learned of a family bereavement the day before and had been distracted and preoccupied for that reason. His boss had also decided to present Steve’s report to the managing director because he thought it was excellent, and therefore had asked for all errors to be corrected.

This example illustrates the powerful effect that our thoughts can have on us. It shows that the way we feel and behave is influenced by the way in which we interpret events around us. Often, like this example, our interpretations do not fit with how things actually are in reality and can lead to unnecessary distress.

CBT is based on the knowledge that many of our psychological problems are caused and maintained by our own unhelpful beliefs and underlying assumptions about ourselves, the world and other people. These beliefs are learned through our past experiences and interactions with significant others. At the time when we learned them they may have helped us cope with our experiences. Now, however, they may no longer be helpful and often hinder our effective functioning.