What is iCBT?

profile picture of Bianca Clarke
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist
06 September 2023
Next review due September 2026
Many of us will have heard of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talking therapy  that can help to change negative patterns in how you think, feel, and behave. But did you know about internet-delivered CBT (iCBT)? How does it differ to CBT? Here, I explain.
person on a laptop

What is iCBT?

iCBT is online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that’s delivered on mobile phones or computers, through video or text chat. It’s also known as computerised CBT (cCBT).

You might already use digital health technology in your everyday life. For example, you might use an app to count your steps or book a GP appointment. One of the main aims of this technology is to make managing your health more convenient. iCBT – which is a form of digital therapy - can be an accessible way of managing a mental health condition.

What is the difference between iCBT and CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely used face-to-face psychological therapy. It’s used to treat many types of mental health problems. CBT can help you find ways to change how you feel or behave, so you can cope better with different situations. Traditionally, CBT is delivered in person by a therapist. But remote therapy using online platforms, such as Zoom, is also an option.

The main difference between iCBT and CBT is how they’re delivered. iCBT usually consists of modules of self-directed learning. It might include talking with a therapist at regular intervals. Self-directed (self-guided) CBT means that you follow techniques and exercises by yourself.

What is iCBT used for?

Like CBT, iCBT can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including:

iCBT may also help with other problems, such as stress, sleep issues, and anger.

The aim of CBT is to examine how you think, and to look at how your thoughts and beliefs affect your feelings and behaviour. This process is something you’ll need to actively participate in. This is because you’ll learn how to identify and challenge negative patterns of thinking.

What are the benefits of ICBT?

Face-to-face CBT is not always easily available due to the demands of our busy lives. You might find iCBT helpful if you can’t meet in person – for example, if you live far away from a CBT therapist. iCBT could be a more private way to receive therapy. And since a course of CBT can last for up to 20 sessions, iCBT may also be a more convenient choice.

How effective is iCBT?

Over the past few years, internet-based CBT has grown, along with evidence to support its treatment for depression and anxiety. For some people, iCBT can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy.

Depending on your condition, you might find that guided iCBT is more effective and the benefits last longer. In one study, guided iCBT was more effective in people with moderate or severe depression. But in people with mild depression, unguided iCBT was as effective as guided iCBT.

It’s important to note that CBT might not be helpful for everybody. If you’ve tried talking therapy and it doesn’t work, your GP can recommend alternative options. These could include peer support, ecotherapy and alternative therapy, or medication.

How can I access iCBT?

In the UK, if you’re 18 or older, you can refer yourself to NHS Talking Therapies (previously known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapy). NHS Talking Therapies can be delivered in person or online.

Your GP might refer you if you’re having problems with your mental health, or following a diagnosis of a mental health condition. It can take up to six weeks to access CBT on the NHS, so while you wait you may find it helpful to look at some online resources.

Or you may wish to see a therapist privately. If you do, check that they’re registered with a body like the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

Several iCBT programmes are recommended for treating depression and anxiety disorders. These include Beating the Blues, Space from Anxiety, Space from Depression, and Deprexis. Every Mind Matters also has some CBT-based self-help techniques you could try.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

profile picture of Bianca Clarke
Bianca Clarke
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist



Sheila Pinion, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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