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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is fundamentally concerned with the meanings which people make of their experiences. The insight of the CBT model is that it is not events that bother us. Instead it is the way that we interpret events – the meaning that we give to them – that gives rise to our feelings. The What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? information handout is a simple way to help your clients understand the basics of CBT. It introduces three essential cognitive behavioral messages:
  • What you think and do affects the way you feel.
  • We can understand problems by examining our thoughts, emotions, physiology, and behavior in specific situations (these components all interact and can be helpfully visualized in a ‘hot cross bun’ format).
  • Our best efforts to cope with our feelings often result in unintended consequences that prevent us from feeling better (introducing vicious cycles).

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A PDF of the resource, theoretical background, suggested therapist questions and prompts.

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A PDF of the resource plus client-friendly instructions where appropriate.

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An editable Microsoft PowerPoint version of the resource.

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Techniques associated with this resource

Introduction & Theoretical Background

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular, evidence-based, form of psychological therapy. One of the basic messages of CBT is that what you think and do affects the way you feel. What Is CBT? is a one-page information sheet which gives and explanation of the basic principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and explores how our (well-intentioned) behaviors often result in unintended consequences. Importantly, it emphasizes that CBT is a collaborative form of therapy which requires active participation in order to be helpful.

Therapist Guidance

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:
  • Client handout - use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point - use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool - improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource - use as a learning tool during training

References And Further Reading

  • Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford.
  • Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: basics and beyond. New York: Guilford.