Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – what is it?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the premise that the way we think about a situation affects how we act. In turn, our actions can affect how we think and feel. It follows, therefore, that if we are to overcome difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression then it is necessary to change both the act of thinking (i.e. our cognitions) and our behaviour, at the same time.

If negative interpretations of situations go unchallenged, patterns in thoughts, feelings and behaviours can become part of a continuous cycle which can be hard to break:


Image courtesy of the charity MIND.

Consider the following example situation, as explained by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

There are helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to most situations, depending on how you think about it. The way you think can be helpful – or unhelpful.

The Situation

You’ve had a bad day, feel fed up, so go out shopping. As you walk down the road, someone you know walks by and, apparently, ignores you. This starts a cascade of:


The same situation has led to two very different results, depending on how you thought about the situation.

How you think has affected how you felt and what you did. In the example in the left hand column, you’ve jumped to a conclusion without very much evidence for it – and this matters, because it’s led to:

  • having a number of uncomfortable feelings
  • behaving in a way that makes you feel worse.

If you go home feeling depressed, you’ll probably brood on what has happened and feel worse. If you get in touch with the other person, there’s a good chance you’ll feel better about yourself.

If you avoid the other person, you won’t be able to correct any misunderstandings about what they think of you – and you will probably feel worse.

This ‘vicious circle’ can make you feel worse. It can even create new situations that make you feel worse. You can start to believe quite unrealistic (and unpleasant) things about yourself. This happens because, when we are distressed, we are more likely to jump to conclusions and to interpret things in extreme and unhelpful ways.

CBT helps people deal with “large” or overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts.  The technique differs from some other forms of therapy in that it focuses heavily on current problems, instead of looking into the past.  Its aim is to find practical ways to improve our state of mind on a daily basis.

Problems are typically broken down into five main areas:

  1. the situation(s)
  2. our thoughts
  3. our emotions
  4. our physical feelings
  5. our actions

Having broken the problem down, each area is discussed in a structured way with the objective of turning negative thoughts into positive ones and acquiring coping skills.  Achievable targets or goals are sometimes agreed to help this process.

CBT is a highly effective way of treating a range of conditions.  Commonly used to deal with stress, anxiety and depression it can also help with:

  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • phobias
  • eating disorders (such as anorexia and bulimia)
  • insomnia
  • alcohol misuse

Our highly skilled psychologists at Vivamus have vast experience in helping people achieve positive outcomes using cognitive behavioural therapy and a range of other treatments – working with you we ensure that the most effective treatment is adopted for each individual’s unique circumstances.

We are here to help you

All Vivamus Psychologists are registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and hold a practising certificate through the British Psychological Society (BPS) and are bound by the Society’s code of conduct and ethical principles.

If you would like to discuss anything that you’ve read in this article in greater detail, would like additional information, find out how we can help you, or arrange a consultation, please contact us:

by phone         07797 952 950 or 07900 285 561

or email 

Your complete confidentiality will of course be respected at all times.

In a 2014 survey by the BACP, 69% of people think the world would be a better place if people talked about their feelings more!