Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy used to treat many different mental health illnesses; helping people with conditions such as depression learn how to change their typical thought patterns so that they have the opportunity to think more positively.

CBT is the result of Dr Aaron T. Beck’s research at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s, where he found that many concepts of depression at the time weren’t true.

He discovered that many depressed patients experienced negative thoughts about themselves, the world or the future. Beck then began to help people assess these thoughts and think more realistically about how they felt about themselves and the world around them.

Using these findings, early cognitive therapy (CT) and behaviour therapy (BT) methods have developed to become known in the modern day as CBT, with over 1,000 studies proving its effectiveness.

How does CBT for depression work?

If you regularly have negative thoughts as a symptom of depression, such as ‘what is the point of getting out of bed?’ or ‘my colleagues will think I’m worthless no matter what I do’, then attending sessions of CBT can be particularly useful.

A therapist will work with you to identify any recurring negative or irrational thoughts you may have, as well as how they affect your behaviours, and will gradually work towards replacing these beliefs with healthier and more practical thoughts.

Because your attitude towards yourself and your position in the world around you directly impacts how you behave, the changes that CBT can provide not only make you aware of the negative thoughts you are having and how they are affecting your actions, but also allows you to act on them and change your thought patterns which can lead to more positive actions in your life.

If you often find it difficult to motivate yourself in the morning for example, you can learn to reflect on these negative feelings, and start thinking more along the lines of “That’s not helping me. If I can get out of bed then I know I will feel the benefits”.

How are the sessions structured?

Treatment for depression or anxiety which includes CBT can last between ten and twenty sessions, which will usually be spread out so you attend for an hour each week, for as many weeks as deemed necessary by your therapist or consultant.

CBT sessions can be delivered in several ways, including:

  • One-to-one - with your therapist face-to-face, although it can be over phone
  • In a group - where you have the chance to share and learn from other people who are experiencing similar mental health problems
  • Practice at home - in addition to one-on-one and group therapy, you may also be asked to work through exercises in your own time and practice these techniques in your day-to-day life     

In terms of what to expect from CBT if you are feeling nervous before your first appointment, a typical CBT session will usually involve the following:

  1. Meeting your therapist and beginning to explore some of the problems, thoughts or symptoms you are having trouble with
  2. Outlining what you want to achieve from the CBT sessions with your therapist, and beginning to plan what future sessions will involve
  3. Taking part in various exercises that help you understand and reflect on how your thoughts are linked to your emotions and behaviours through diagrams or worksheets
  4. Practicing exercises outside of the session
  5. Reviewing your progress and recapping on what has previously been learnt

Does CBT work for treating depression?

While sessions of CBT can continue for weeks or months before symptoms of depression or anxiety begin to ease, it is often cited as the most effective form of talking therapy, otherwise known as psychotherapy, which currently exists.

Depending on the severity of your mental health condition, CBT can also be used alongside antidepressant medication, which can help make therapy sessions more effective as symptoms of depression are reduced.

Because many of the techniques for managing your thoughts and behaviours can be used long-term once you have completed a number of CBT sessions, the effectiveness of the treatment in preventing your depression from returning can help you reduce the impact of depression on your life well into the future.    

If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, our nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres can help you take the first steps on the road to recovery by setting up a tailored treatment plan including CBT sessions.

If you would like further information on the full range of Priory services then please call: 0800 078 3284 or
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