What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

If you are thinking about therapy, perhaps Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT is the place to begin.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most researched therapies in the world, and is often the first therapy our clients begin with. Easily adapted and paced to client needs, CBT is a talking and skills based therapy, CBT is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression in adults and children.

Like any therapy, it’s not one-size fits all. In CBT, psychotherapy focuses on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

CBT has been around for a long time, and is extensively researched. Developed in the 1960’s, Aaron Beck is known as the father of cognitive behavioural therapy. Beck was a psychiatrist,and he noticed that many patients with depression had negative and distorted thoughts. He began to develop techniques to help them identify and challenge these thoughts, techniques which have been developed and tested ever since.  For younger clients, CBT can have a great deal of focus on emotions and behaviours, and creating experiences to drive behavioural change. It is an excellent treatment for child anxiety. For older children, teens and adults with more sophisticated thinking skills and a greater range of experiences, the therapy usually begins by thinking about your thinking.

Thinking about your thinking

CBT can help challenge overthinking, rumination and anxiety thoughts. It is an excellent therapy for adults or teens with anxiety or depression. The way we think about a situation can affect how we feel and behave in response to it. A key principle of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected. This means that unhelpful thoughts and beliefs leads to unhelpful feelings and behaviours, which can lead in turn to more unhelpful thoughts and beliefs.

Experiences shape our beliefs about the world, and we can make assumptions that may not be accurate, or simply react out of habit to situations. Therapists help clients identify, and to change negative patterns of thinking and behaving that are causing problems. A structured therapy, CBT is known for teaching a skill set, and for it’s focus on helping clients to reach specific goals.

When we provide CBT, we can help individuals identify and change negative or unhelpful patterns by teaching skills such as:

  • learning to identify negative thoughts,
  • learning to recognise errors in the way we think when stressed
  • learning how to replace unhelpful thoughts with more balanced or realistic thoughts.

We focus on thinking patterns because negative or irrational thoughts can lead to challenging emotions and behaviours. For example, Negative self-talk such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never be successful” can lead to feelings of low self-worth, self-doubt, and anxiety. These thoughts can lead to behaviours such as avoiding new challenges, withdrawing from social situations or giving up on goals and aspirations.

Unhelpful thoughts can also include catastrophic thinking, such as “If I fail this test, I’ll never get into college or university”. These thoughts can lead to feelings of intense panic and anxiety. They can also lead to behaviours such as procrastination, or even avoiding taking a test altogether.

Building coping skills for life

Practicing exercises and learning strategies to challenge thoughts can lead to more balanced thinking. For example, a thought such as “I’ve studied hard for this test, and I’m well-prepared, it’s possible that I might not pass but also possible that I will” can lead to much better test outcomes than catastrophic thinking “I can’t do this, I’m going to fail” – because catastrophic thinking can increase anxiety, and typically interferes with concentration and recall. Developing the emotional intelligence to managing your thinking and emotions is an important strategy for success in most fields.

We know that many clients struggle with perfectionism, or all-or-nothing thinking. This can lead to thoughts such as “If I can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing”, which can lead to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. It can also lead to behaviours such as giving up on projects or not trying new things, for fear of failure.  On the other hand, positive or helpful thoughts tends to generate more manageable emotions and promotes helpful behaviours. For example, if someone has the thought “I can handle this challenge,” they may feel confident enough to make an attempt to solve, rather than avoid a problem.

CBT provides the tools to deal with problems more effectively, and can improve relationships.

Thoughts affect our mood and ability to act

It’s not uncommon for clients with depression to have negative thoughts such as “I am worthless” or “Nothing will ever change.” Using a CBT approach, psychologists help the client to identify these negative thoughts, and to evaluate the evidence for and against them. We know that over time, our clients can often begin to challenge and replace unhelpful thoughts on their own. More helpful thoughts such as  “I am valuable and have things to offer” and “Things can change with effort and time” can drive positive emotional and behavioural changes.

Unlike some other therapies, CBT tends to focus on the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It helps individuals learn to focus on what is happening now and to develop strategies for coping with difficult situations. It can help individuals to build new coping strategies to manage negative emotions or take on things they find challenging in a healthy way.

For example, clients who have fears such as public speaking most likely avoid speaking in public. A CBT approach would help identify the negative thoughts and beliefs that are causing fear, such as “I will make a fool of myself” or “People will judge me.” Using CBT therapists teach strategies to challenge these thoughts and beliefs.  And importantly, these techniques help clients move forward to hit their goals. Clients learn to apply and practice coping strategies to gradually build their confidence in public speaking.

Collaborative, client-centred therapy

In CBT, changing the way we think about a situation can change the way we feel and behave. That’s why setting goals which are specific, measurable and achievable are part of the development of a client-centred treatment plan.  CBT is a well-researched and widely accepted form of psychotherapy that can help change negative patterns of thinking and behaving that may be causing problems in your life.

If you or your child is struggling with negative thoughts, feelings or behaviours, it might be worth considering giving CBT a try. At Mindworx Psychology we know that the skills learned in CBT therapy have significantly changed lives for the better, sometimes completely eradicating anxiety problems or low mood.  CBT underpins our courses and workshops and all of our team offer this therapy, either alone, or combined with another therapy approach to ensure the therapy is designed for your specific and unique needs.

If you are ready for change, we are ready to help.  Contact us.


Written by

Dr Amanda Mullin

Director – Doctor of Clinical Psychology

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Dr Amanda Mullin, Founder of Mindworx Psychology & Doctor of Clinical Psychology

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