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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological (talking) therapy. The key idea of CBT is that the way we think (cognitive) and what we do (behavior) affects the way we feel. So if we want to change the way we feel we may need to make changes to what we think and do. A cognitive behavior therapist (or CBT self-help) can help you to explore your thoughts and actions, and can help you to make positive changes.

Isn’t it events (or other people) that bother me?

Our normal ‘common-sense’ way of thinking about the world tells us that it is events or situations that lead us to feel a certain way. For example:


According to our 'common-sense' way of thinking about the world 'Events' lead to 'Emotions'

This is one of those times when common sense oversimplifies things. If events always led to feelings then everybody would be affected in the same way by an event. But we know that not everyone reacts the same way to the same event. Imagine being asked to sing in front of an audience – some people would be excited at the chance, whereas others would be horrified!

CBT looks at things a different way. The CBT model says that it is not events that bother us, instead it is the way that we interpret them (or the meaning that we give to them) that gives rise to our feelings.

The CBT model says that the way we 'Interpret' 'Events' leads to our 'Emotions'


Everybody interprets things slightly differently, according to their past history and genetic make-up. This explains why different people can react differently to the same event.

This isn’t a new idea, in 135AD the Greek Philosopher Epictetus said:

“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things”

Shakespeare said something similar in 1602:

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”

It might not be new, but it is a powerful idea though. Although we may not always be able to change the situations we find ourselves in, we are in charge of our own minds and we have choice over how we think about things.

Why do people respond in different ways to the same event?

Our genes, personal experiences and past histories have shaped who we are, and they shape how we interpret situations in the here-and-now. They shape how we see ourselves, the world, and out future.

Someone who had lots of support and encouragement growing up may see themselves as strong and capable, the world as full of opportunity, and their future as bright with possibility.

Someone else, who had less encouragement growing up, or perhaps experienced neglect or abuse, might see themselves as more vulnerable. They might view the world as threatening, other people as potentially hurtful, and may have a dimmer view of their future.

These world-view’s (or ‘schemas’ in CBT terms) shape how we interact with the world.

Different people can 'Interpret' the same 'Event' in different ways


Thoughts and actions

The thoughts we have in any particular situation will lead us to act in certain ways:


Every action we take has a consequence, but sometimes the consequences are not what we intended:


CBT is designed to help you to untangle your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Go to: Understanding emotions