What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy. Would you like to learn more about CBT or prepare for your treatment? In this 3 minute video, you’ll learn everything you need to know about CBT. You can also read the explanation below the video.


The CBT treatment focuses on discussing and treating the behaviour and thoughts that sustain your problems. You will investigate the connection between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and you will learn how to turn the thoughts that generate unwanted feelings into helpful thoughts that create desired feelings instead. The effectiveness of CBT has been proven in scientific research. Treatment is complaint- or problem-oriented and generally takes a short amount of time. The goal is to learn to think more realistically and become more balanced. Even after treatment, you may still experience situations as difficult, but you will no longer see them as a ‘disaster’.

Part of CBT involves filling out thought records, challenging thoughts, and doing both exposure assignments and behavioural experiments.


Consistency of thoughts, behaviour and feeling

Thoughts, ideas and perception play an important role in psychological complaints. For example, people with major depressive disorder often find that minor disappointments or setbacks can elicit a pattern of negative thoughts about themselves, about the future, and about the world. These negative thoughts almost become automatic.

The way you think determines your perspective on situations. Two people who find themselves in the same situation may react very differently. As an example, we take Jan and Piet, who board the same bus. On this bus, a group of children suddenly bursts out laughing. Jan thinks: “I’m sure they are laughing at me”, giving him a sad feeling. He gets off at the next bus stop because he feels too uncomfortable. Piet thinks: “Oh, those kids are having a good time, they must have had a nice day,” and this gives him a pleasant feeling. Piet stays on the bus until he reaches his destination and gets off cheerfully. This is an example of how the same event can evoke a different feeling in two different people; because of their automatic thoughts, they interpreted the situation differently. Thoughts influence how you feel, and, luckily, our thoughts can be changed!


Cognitive therapy 

Cognitive therapy is a systematic method that helps you to understand these thoughts that lead to unpleasant feelings. By learning to think differently, you can reduce your negative feelings.

There are three steps in the cognitive part of the therapy:

  1. At first, you learn to become aware of the negative automatic thoughts (e.g., “They laugh at me because they don’t like me”).
  2. Then, you learn to challenge these negative automatic thoughts and beliefs by asking critical questions about them (e.g., “Is there evidence for this thought, could I look at the situation differently?”).
  3. Finally, you will consider whether other interpretations are possible and learn to create a new, more realistic thought (e.g., “The children are not laughing at me, but at each other”).


The behavioural part of the therapy

Your thoughts can influence your feelings and behaviour. Conversely, your own behaviour can also reinforce your negative automatic thoughts. Think back to Jan who got off the bus. Because of his behaviour, he did not learn that his thoughts may have been wrong. In fact, the other kids might not like him because he left so suddenly. That is why you will not only examine your thoughts, but you will also work on your behaviour. You do this by doing exercises, such as experiments or exposure exercises. Together with your professional, you will learn to put your new behaviour into practice.


In the end

The CBT treatment aims to teach you how to think more realistically and to be able to deal with your complaints. Remember that you can still experience situations as difficult even after finishing your treatment, but the treatment will help you to no longer see them as a ‘disaster’. You conclude the treatment by making a relapse prevention plan, which gives you the confidence to be able to deal with difficult moments in the future.


Bron: Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten.


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