CBT

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Introduction

‘Don’t believe everything you think’. This essential mantra underpins much of what has become known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Developed originally by Aaron T Beck and colleagues, who observed that people with depression were more prone to experience negative cognitive biases, or ‘automatic thoughts’ which he argued became central to maintaining their difficulties, CBT combines our understanding of cognitive theory and behavioural psychology as a psychological treatment for a range of mental health problems.

More recently, so called ‘third wave’ cognitive therapies have incorporated therapeutic elements of CBT to create new interventions targeting specific client groups or set of difficulties. These include dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), commonly used with people with a diagnosis of personality disorder or complex trauma, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for the treatment of, well, near enough anything.

In England, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) initiative provides countrywide access to free face-to-face and computerised CBT (cCBT) for common mental health difficulties, via NHS services. 

What we know already

In the world of psychological treatments, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is rather en vogue. According to NICE guidelines, CBT should be offered as first line treatment for common mental health difficulties, as well as be routinely offered where psychological difficulties such as depression exist alongside chronic physical health conditions such as heart failure, respiratory disease, or following stroke. We know that CBT works particularly well for anxiety-related difficulties and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Areas of uncertainty

There is an element of controversy though. The recent proliferation of CBT in mainstream mental health services has come at the expense, some might say, of other treatments (such as psychodynamic therapy, which is typically of longer duration). The controversy arises partly from the fact that, in many studies, CBT has been shown to be no more effective than other treatments, with a few notable exceptions.

You’ll see many fine elves blogging about the ‘dodo bird verdict’, essentially that all psychological therapies are equal in their effectiveness. The debate concerns the fact that neither the quality nor quantity of evidence necessarily indicates effectiveness, and CBT has benefitted from being much more widely researched over the past two decades.

The debate into research bias and the quality of evidence for CBT remains ongoing, particularly in areas such as psychosis.

What’s in the pipeline?

The IAPT programme is continuing to expand the availability of CBT for children, people with long-term physical health conditions and serious mental health difficulties such as psychosis.

cCBT will no doubt adapt to new technologies in providing novel platforms for therapy.

CBT doesn’t work for everyone. Hopefully the debate surrounding CBT will drive further rigorous research, with a focus on those for whom CBT is unsuccessful. 

References

NICE (2009) Depression in adults with a chronic physical health problem: Treatment and management [CG91] [PDF]

NICE (2011) Common mental health disorders: Identification and pathways to care [CG123] [PDF]

Layard, R., & Clark, D. M. (2014). Thrive: The power of evidence-based psychological therapies. Penguin UK. [Publisher]

Acknowledgement

Written by: Patrick Kennedy-Williams
Reviewed by:
Last updated: Sep 2015
Review due: Sep 2016

Our CBT Blogs

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Rachel Symons summarises a practitioner review looking at the effectiveness of indicated school‐based interventions for adolescents, which finds a positive impact on both depression and anxiety, but little evidence of long-term benefit.

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Liesbeth Tip highlights the new OxCADAT guidance for psychotherapists providing online therapy for people with anxiety, panic or trauma.

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Hannah Bowers writes her debut blog on a recent qualitative study, which explores how mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can help people stop taking antidepressants and recover from depression. This paper includes the views and perspectives of participants in the 2015 PREVENT trial.

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Linda Gask summarise a systematic review which suggests that psychological interventions are efficacious in treating prolonged grief. She concludes that it’s time to pay more attention to the suffering caused by prolonged grief both in research and clinical practice.

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Will Koehler writes his debut Mental Elf blog on an exploratory study about how LGBT youth use the internet in relation to their mental health.

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Rachel Symons summarises a qualitative study on teachers’ aspirations, needs and opinions regarding student mental health support in secondary schools.

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Keith Laws looks at a systematic review of patient and study characteristics, which asks: are randomised controlled trials on pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for positive symptoms of schizophrenia comparable?

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