The behavioural and cognitive psychotherapies (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT]) are used to treat a wide range of emotional disorders, using a problem-solving approach. CBT is used with increasing frequency in the UK to treat depression, as well as things like:

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Managing long-term illness
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia

There is a large body of research evidence which demonstrates the effectiveness of these psychotherapies in treating problems such as depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, chronic pain and irritable bowel syndrome.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to re-train a person’s way of thinking to help them to deal with stressful situations. It is based around the idea that the way a person thinks about a situation affects the way that they act. In turn, a person’s actions influence the way they think and feel. It is therefore necessary to change both the act of thinking (cognition) and behaviour at the same time.

Therapist and client work as part of a team to identify problems and examine these in terms of the relationship between thoughts, feelings, behaviour and the individual’s environment.

The main focus in treatment is on the here and now (as opposed to the past) and how current problems interfere with the client’s daily life. The aim of therapy is to help the client understand their problems and develop practical ways of dealing with them. There is an emphasis on self-help and the therapist will ask the client to deliberately practice applying their new knowledge between therapy sessions.

Typically treatment consists of between 6 and 30 weekly sessions of an hour. This may be in health centres, specialist departments or hospital outpatient clinics. The behavioural and cognitive psychotherapies are widely available in the UK on the NHS, as well as the private sector. Many healthcare professionals are trained in these therapies, including clinical psychologists, psychiatric nurses and social workers.