Your GP may recommend CBT for several reasons. CBT is the preferred psychological treatment for anxiety disorders and depression. But it can also be used to treat other mental health disorders and physical conditions, including:
- panic disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- body dysmorphic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- eating disorders
- anger issues
- sleep problems
- persistent pain
- sexual or relationship issues
- bipolar affective disorder
You can have CBT on its own or alongside any medicines you’re taking.
You usually have CBT for between six weeks and six months. You may have it on your own, with your partner or a family member, or in a group.
If you have individual treatment sessions, you usually attend every week or two. The number of sessions you have will depend on why you’re having CBT. Each session usually lasts for about 30 minutes to an hour. You may have follow-up therapy sessions after you finish a course of CBT to check on your progress.
If your GP thinks that you may benefit from CBT, they will be able to refer you to a suitable therapist. It’s important that your therapist is trained and qualified to use CBT. A number of different healthcare professionals are specially trained to use this type of therapy. These include clinical psychologists, psychiatrists (doctors who specialise in identifying and treating mental health conditions), mental health nurses and social workers.
You can also find your own CBT therapist. The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) holds a register of accredited therapists.
Some mental health teams and GP surgeries can offer you access to interactive computer-based CBT programmes. Some of these computer programmes are also available for free online.
CBT can help people with certain emotional or physical conditions. It can be particularly helpful if you have depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. Research shows that CBT can be just as helpful as taking medicines for mild to moderate depression. It may also help to reduce your risk of experiencing these problems again (known as a relapse).
Research shows that CBT can also be effective at reducing depression and pain in people with chronic pain conditions.
Self-help CBT may be effective on its own, but it usually works better if you have the support of a healthcare professional.
To start with, your CBT therapist will ask about your background and how you’re currently feeling. They will work with you to identify your current thoughts and issues, so you can discuss and focus on this, rather than events in your past.
You learn to make sense of your thoughts and actions by breaking them down into smaller areas. This will allow you to see how they’re connected and how they affect you.
Your CBT therapist will show you practical techniques so you can identify how you’re thinking and how this affects your feelings and behaviour. You will learn to challenge negative ways of thinking and how to react more positively. You will then explore other ways of dealing with a distressing situation.
Your therapist may suggest that you keep a diary each day to identify how you react to certain events or thoughts. You can note down when you feel distressed; what’s triggered this and your mood and thoughts at the time. You can also note whether you experienced any physical symptoms too, such as pain or low energy levels. This will help you identify any unrealistic or helpful thoughts, feelings or behaviour.
Your CBT therapist will usually set you homework between your sessions. This involves applying what you’ve discussed in the sessions to your daily life. You may start to question unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones. You may also recognise events or actions that could make you feel worse and do something more helpful instead. You won’t be asked to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
When you have CBT, you learn specific skills to improve your quality of life. You then continue to practise what you’ve learnt on your own once you finish the series of sessions. You can use these skills for the rest of your life. But if you notice your symptoms are returning, you can go back to the therapist for some more sessions.
CBT can be a challenging treatment. You must feel ready to actively change your thoughts and behaviour for it to be successful. It isn’t a quick fix. It takes time and you have to work at it. You may find it difficult to concentrate and stay motivated at first. You may also feel a bit anxious. But the right therapist will put you at ease and make sure your sessions work for you.
It’s important to remember that CBT isn’t for everyone. You may find another treatment that works better for you. Your doctor will discuss various options with you.
Yes, children and teenagers can have CBT.
CBT is the first treatment a doctor will choose for children and teenagers with an anxiety disorder. It’s also used for children with other mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
If your GP thinks CBT could benefit your child, they may refer them for treatment. Speak to your GP for more information.
An accredited CBT therapist will treat your sessions as completely confidential.
Medical professionals follow a code of medical practice to ensure your details are kept confidential and are only passed on to people involved in your care. What you discuss in your CBT sessions won’t be discussed with anyone else unless you give your therapist specific permission to do so.
The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) keeps a list of approved and qualified therapists. CBT therapists, who are members of the BABCP, must follow the Standards of Conduct and Ethics when they provide CBT as a treatment. This includes maintaining confidentiality.
Yes, you can do CBT using a computer programme or with self-help books. There are also apps available to download to your smartphone if you have one.
You may find computerised CBT helpful if you have mild symptoms or don’t want to see a therapist.
In England and Wales, the NHS has approved two computer-based CBT programmes. Fear Fighter is specifically for people who have phobias or panic attacks. Beating the Blues is aimed at people who have depression. But to get access to these programmes, your GP will need to refer you.
There are a number of self-help books for people with conditions such as depression. If you would like to try this approach, your CBT therapist or GP may be able to recommend a suitable one.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists also suggests using the following free online CBT courses.
If you need more information, speak to your CBT therapist or GP.
- What is CBT? British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. www.babcp.com, published October 2012
- Cognitive and behavioural therapies. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, reviewed 2 April 2014
- Psychotherapy. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry (online). 3rd ed. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published online March 2013
- Mental Health. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (online). 4th ed. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Cognitive behavioural therapy. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, updated July 2013
- Management of chronic pain. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), December 2013. www.sign.ac.uk
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, reviewed 12 January 2015
- Nursing patients with mental health needs. Oxford Handbook of Adult Nursing (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010
- Treatment of depression and bipolar disorder. Treating and preventing adolescent mental health disorders: what we know and what we don’t know. A research agenda for improving the mental health of our youth (online). Oxford medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2012
- Treatment of anxiety disorders. Treating and preventing adolescent mental health disorders: what we know and what we don’t know. A research agenda for improving the mental health of our youth (online). Oxford medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2012
- Standards of conduct, performance and ethics. British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. www.babcp.com, accessed 9 March 2016
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Alice Rossiter, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2016.
Peer reviewed by Lars Davidsson, Consultant Psychiatrist.
Next review due June 2019
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights (on Maternity Leave)
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road