Deven Seetanah, 24/7 Health Support Team at AXA Health

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

1 July 2024

Persistent negative or self-critical thoughts can be overwhelming and can make it more difficult to cope with conditions such as anxiety or depression. If you have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and a GP or mental health professional has recommended cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), then this talking therapy can help break the negative cycle and help change the way you interpret a situation. 

We take a look at what CBT is and how it works to change negative patterns, in order to improve the way you feel.1

What is CBT?

CBT is a talking therapy and it works by helping you break down an overwhelming problem into smaller parts, which makes it easier to understand how your thoughts, feelings and behaviour are connected and how they affect each other.

Talking therapies like CBT, have been widely used to treat a growing number of conditions, including:

  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • eating disorders,
  • sleep problems,
  • and relationship and family problems.

They are used both as a stand-alone treatment and, for those with a more severe psychological disorder, as a supplement to another form of treatment, such as medication.

>Read more on other alternative therapies which can help boost wellbeing and mental health.

How does CBT work?

CBT is a practical, solution-based treatment that helps you to identify irrational thoughts, assumptions and beliefs and learn how to replace them with more reasonable ones.

The treatment is highly structured and focuses on specific problems and goals. A typical CBT session may include:

  • Working through exercises with your therapist to explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
  • Agreeing some activities to work on in your own time.
  • Going over what you did in previous sessions and discussing what progress you’ve made.2

CBT tends to be a short-term treatment with a set number of sessions with a therapist.

How long does treatment last?

You will usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every 2 weeks with the course of treatment usually lasting for between 6 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes.3

It should not be seen as a quick fix. To be successful, it requires a lot of motivation, commitment, and work. You’ll be expected to participate actively both during and in between sessions, practising techniques you’ve learned and working on set tasks at home.

The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life.3

Getting started with CBT

The first step is to discuss the problem that’s concerning you with your GP, who can refer you for CBT, if appropriate.

Some CBT practitioners work on a self-employed basis or through private clinics – you can search for an accredited therapist on the CBT Register UK.4

You may be able to self-refer, although some practitioners will require a referral from your GP or another health professional.

Discover more on the topic of mental health in our mental health hub, where we cover a range of conditions and offer some self-help tips, such as mindfulness


  1. How CBT works – NHS
  2. What are CBT sessions like? - Mind
  3. What happens during CBT sessions - NHS