Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: How it Works and Who Can Benefit

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a therapeutic approach which focuses on assessing an individual’s thoughts and actions to facilitate change in their lives. Specifically, CBT views our feelings and behaviours as a direct result of our thoughts, rather than external stimulants such as people and events (National Association for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 2010).

How CBT Works:

Thoughts – those little phrases, beliefs and ideas we hold to be true. Thoughts constantly run through our minds. Chances are we don’t consciously notice most of them, and are quite surprised at their messages when we sit and take stock of the messages we are receiving from ourselves.

Actions – the things we do. Often we wait for motivation to strike us in order to pick up a new habit, or change an old habit. Motivation increases when we begin to actively initiate change. For example, it is easier to get up off the couch to exercise if we did yesterday.

Feelings – our emotions and state of being. Feelings are hidden things we often don’t recognize or take the time to label as we continually move through life. It’s only when we really slow ourselves down, and take the time to look at how we’re feeling in a specific moment that we find ourselves surprised by the strength of our feelings.

For example, if you think “I’m fat or unhealthy”, you are not feeling very good about yourself, and will likely eat (action) chips. In turn, you will feel even more poorly about yourself, feeling defeated, frustrated, and down. Your thinking turns more negative, you finish the chips, and feel increasingly down.

Thought: I’m fat and unhealthy

Action: Eat unhealthy food

Feeling: Frustrated, defeated, down, guilty


Another example, if you think “No one will listen to me, my opinions at work are not valid”, you will stay quiet and not speak up (action), and in turn feel inferior,

Thought: My opinions are not valid, no one will listen to me

Action: Not speaking up

Feeling: Inferior, self-conscious, stuck


While our “hollywood” perception of therapy may involve lying on a therapist’s couch and sharing about our childhood for years, CBT takes a distinctively different approach. An individual being treated through CBT will be asked to take a very active role in their therapy, learning skills, changing behaviours, and completing homework between sessions (Beck Institute for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, n.d.). CBT focuses on the present, and while this will involve examining thoughts and beliefs we learned as children, the therapy focus will stay on how this is affecting the individual at the current time (BICBT, n.d.). CBT requires an individual to unlearn dysfunctional thinking patterns, and replace these patterns with realistic, functional patterns of thought (NACBT, 2010). While the therapist will provide empathy throughout the session, their role isn’t to only help you feel better for the time being. They will teach you to use tools, as well as encourage you to challenge your thinking and conduct behavioural experiments to test if your understanding is accurate to the reality of the situation (BICBT, n.d.). This will allow you to come to your own conclusions and ultimately facilitate long-lasting change.


Who can Benefit from CBT?

Everyone can benefit from increased self-awareness and new tools to help navigate through the challenges we face every day. CBT is a tested and proven effective treatment for a wide variety of disorders including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, and habit disorders (BICBT, n.d.). Depending on which thoughts, actions and feelings are getting you down, the possibilities for change in your life are limitless. You will experience increased awareness, and be able to walk through the thoughts and actions bringing you down, testing them for accuracy, and learning strategies and techniques to change them to a more accurate, positive view of yourself and the situation you’re going through.



Beck Institute for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. (n.d.). What is CBT? Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://www.BICBT,

NACBT National Association of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. (2010). Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from

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