Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach in which practitioners learn to come to an understanding that thinking, behaviour, and affect are intertwined. By changing maladaptive thinking, one seeks to change behavioural patterns and general affect.

The goal of cognitive behaviour therapy is to replace a patient’s distorted view of life events with a more realistic one. Treatment involves designing learning experiences in order to teach patients to:

– monitor automatic thoughts;
– recognize relationships between cognition, affect, and behaviour;
– test the validity of automatic thoughts:
– replace distorted cognitions with more realistic ones;
– identify and alter underlying beliefs, assumptions, or schemata which predispose the individual to engaging in faulty thinking patterns.

A typical cognitive behavioural therapy program consists of between 6-18 one-hour face-to-face sessions between patient and therapist with a gap of 1-3 weeks between sessions. Homework assignments are given which patients are to complete before the next session. For example, a depressed person may be depressed because he/she is lonely, and because he/she is lonely may seldom go out. Homework for this person may be to attend any type of social event before the next session. Based on how well the patient follows homework instructions and what the results of the process were in terms of change in thinking and affect, the therapist can then gauge the next step of treatment.

The earliest of the cognitive behavioural therapies emerged in the early 1960s but it was not until the 1970s that the first textbooks on the subject appeared. Cognitive-behaviour therapy originated in traditional behaviour therapy, which in turn originated from behavioural approaches to human problems. Although behavioural models had been dominant for some time, it became apparent by the late 1960s that they were not enough to account for all types of human behaviour. At the same time, and at the other end of the spectrum, the psycho-dynamic model of personality and therapy was also losing favour as some began to reject the psychoanalytic emphases on unconscious processes. In the early 1970s, new information-processing models of cognition were being developed and researched and these types of models were being extended into the clinical field. Some of the earliest people to begin identifying themselves as cognitive-behaviour therapists were Aaron T. Beck, Joseph Cautela, Albert Ellis, Michael J. Mahoney and Donald Meichenbaum. In 1977, the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research was created with Michael J. Mahoney as editor. The journal provided the means to stimulate discussion within this new field of study.


Dobson, K. S. (2001) Handbook of cognitive-behaviour therapies. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press.