What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

cbtCBT is a short-term (16 to 20 sessions) therapy that emphasizes the role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. This type of therapy focuses on the relationship between a person’s thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and the role that they play in a person’s symptoms, daily functioning and quality of life. By focusing on these three components, changes can be made in how a person thinks, acts and feels about his or her difficulties. The basic principle of CBT is that how a person thinks has a powerful effect on his or her emotions and behaviours.  The goal of CBT therapy is to teach you that while you cannot control the world around you, you can take control of how you interpret and deal with things in your environment.


Research studies have shown that CBT is an effective treatment for a wide range of psychological problems and symptoms including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and insomnia. Cognitive behavioural therapy also helps in teaching you stress management and relaxation techniques.  Pet scan studies that have looked at people’s brains before and after treatment have shown that engaging in CBT treatment can have a profound positive effect on your brain activity.  This suggests that the brain is actually improving its functioning because of this treatment.

CBT Theory

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is based on the assumption that your thoughts have a direct influence on how you feel.   Not only do your thoughts directly influence how you feel, but they also directly influence how you act and how your body responds physically.  When people are in distress, their perspective of the world, themselves and their future may be negatively skewed, biased or inaccurate.  CBT helps you identify your negative thought patterns, understand how these developed and are maintained, and helps you to find more adaptive ways to view stressful situations.  Therapy teaches you to become an observer of your thought process and, through specific training, CBT teaches you to change your negative thought patterns.  The expectation is that these cognitive changes will have a positive impact on your quality of life, improve your sense of self and others, and help you to build resilience and positive coping strategies. By the end of therapy, you will become an effective problem solver and will know how to make positive changes in your life.

Preparing for Treatment

An important part of CBT therapy is goal setting.  We encourage you to think about specific changes you would like to make at work, at home, or in your relationships.  Think about ways in which you would like your life to change or improve, or what symptoms you would like to decrease. Your therapist will help you set specific goals and throughout therapy, your progress towards these goals will be monitored and assessed. Together, you will develop an “action plan” to implement solutions to problems or to make changes in your thinking or behaviours. When treatment ends, you will be able to use the skills and tools you have learned in therapy in your day-to-day life.

How CBT Works

During the first session, your therapist will ask you to explain your current situation and briefly review your psychological, medical, social, work, family and relationship history. You will also discuss your treatment goals and, if appropriate, fill out psychological measures.  Once all of this information has been gathered, your therapist will formulate and discuss with you a suitable treatment plan as well as give you feedback on the results of any psychological measures you completed.

CBT therapy often includes keeping track of and recording your own thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. Over time, you will learn to recognize which thoughts or thought patterns are linked to your mood and behaviours.  You will learn important strategies that will help you change these negative thoughts or behaviours, and through these changes, you will notice a marked improvement in your quality of life.

CBT also uses methods such as relaxation exercises, stress management and mindfulness-based techniques to help you solve problems. Because problems and life situations are different from person to person, therapy is always tailored to your individual needs.

Although CBT is a brief treatment, it cannot be said across the board how long a successful therapy will take. Some people feel considerably better after a few sessions, while others need treatment for several months. The length of treatment will depend on the kind and severity of the problems, among other things.