Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

A CBT Crash Course

What is CBT?

CBT also known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a short term, goal oriented therapy that takes on a practical approach in problem solving. This therapy operates around the concept that it is not the event or situation itself that upsets us, but the meaning that we give to this situation, hence exploring the link between one’s behaviours, thoughts and the subsequent feelings felt. CBT has been often used to help people that suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders or other mental illnesses to help them lessen or alleviate the feelings they feel by focusing on specific behaviours or thoughts that lead to said feelings.

Unlike other therapy approaches, rather than to help one understand their problems, it helps the patient to understand what they can do in the present day and moment to eliminate or alleviate their problems, placing more emphasis on the thought process rather than the emotions. This allows the patient to look into current problems they are facing as opposed to past situations or upsetting events.

Ultimately, the goal of CBT is to help a person to change the way they think or behave in order to eliminate subsequent negative feelings.

So how does CBT work?

CBT aims to help people to make sense of their current problems or feelings that may be overwhelming and what they are able to do currently to help with their situation by breaking this problem down into smaller, more manageable parts. This allows one to feel less daunted in the face of their problems and be able to tackle said problems effectively.

CBT follows a few basic steps to break down a specific problem which mainly focus on one’s negative automatic thoughts. They are thoughts that stem from the beliefs one holds, hence informing their automatic reaction and thoughts to things that happen around them.

Example: Procrastinating and avoiding to fill in an online assessment

  1. Recognise the negative automatic thoughts: e.g. ”I am stupid and won’t be able to succeed”.
  2. Identifying unhelpful thinking styles and challenging the negative thought, e.g. I am labelling myself here and predicting the future in an unbalanced way by only seeing the negative outcome.
  3. How does this neg automatic thought make you feel? e.g. nervous, inadequate
  4. Substituting the automatic thoughts with rationale responses in order to eliminate and alleviate the subsequent feelings, e.g. “I am nervous, because I am unsure about the outcome of the assessment. Looking back to my past assessments, I passed them for 95% (fact).
  5. How does this new balanced thought make you feel? It can help you to feel “less nervous and inadequate”.

CBT under the microscope

Advantages of CBT Limitations of CBT
It can be completed over a relatively shorter period and time as compared to other alternatives. As CBT is based around a person actively trying to learn and understand what they can do to alleviate their problems, it requires commitment in order to be successful.
The skills that one learns from CBT such as learning to not jump to conclusions, magnifying, minimizing, etc. can all be incorporated and used in one’s daily life. A therapist can help, but it will not work without the patient’s cooperation.
It works to manage one’s present day problems and focuses on re-training one’s thoughts in order to eliminate the subsequent negative feelings. Although its structured nature can be a benefit, it can also limit those with complex mental health needs or learning difficulties as they require frequent intervention.
It is structured, meaning it can be provided in different forms such as in one on one sessions, within groups, books, apps, etc. making it convenient and accessible. As CBT focuses more on one’s thoughts and behaviours as opposed to emotions, it may not be as effective for those who are experiencing strong emotions or people who are very emotional.

Is CBT for you?

CBT requires active participation from a person in order to be effective and can benefit those who are committed to apply the learned skills outside of the therapy sessions. This can also be for people who are struggling with specific issues that they aim to break down and eliminate as opposed to feeling generally dissatisfied or unhappy.

Furthermore, it has been proven that mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD and or substance abuse all respond positively to CBT, so if you are a person currently struggling with any of these, CBT may be effective for you.

Bellow, N. (2014). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: CBT Fundamentals & Applications
Vara Saripalli, P. (2018). Cognitive behavioral therapy: How does CBT work?. Medical News Today. Retrieved 4 December 2018, from
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (2017). Retrieved 4 December 2018, from

Written by Beatrice Sung, edited by Dr. Julia A. Andre

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