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

Third wave CBT for psychosis: how reliable is current evidence?

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Keith Laws explores a recent meta-analysis of third wave CBT for psychosis, which suggests we need better evidence about the safety and efficacy of mindfulness, acceptance-based therapy, compassion-focused therapy and other third wave approaches.

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CBT may help to improve emotion regulation in children with autism

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James Cusack from Autistica writes his debut elf blog on a new RCT of CBT to improve emotion regulation in children with autism, published recently in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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The Lancet Psychiatry Commission on psychological treatments #SeeingFurther

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Ioana Cristea highlights some of the key ideas from the recently published Lancet Psychiatry Commission on psychological treatments research in tomorrow’s science. She also raises a number of objections to the 50-page report, which we hope will generate some much needed discussion on this topic.

Look out for our #SeeingFurther podcast with the authors of the Commission and a Twitter chat at 12:30pm GMT on Monday 19th March.

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Perinatal depression in mothers: how can treatment help with parenting and child development?

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Eloise Stark publishes her debut blog on a recent systematic review, which looks at the effect that treatment for perinatal depression in mothers can have on parenting and child development.

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Dental anxiety: Non-pharmacological treatment may be beneficial

Should we be paying more attention to anxiety in people with psychosis?

This review of non-pharmacological intervention to reduce mental distress, pain, and analgesic use in adults undergoing dental treatment included 29 RCTs. The findings suggest positive benefits for the interventions examined with no significant differences between the various interventions.

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Teacher burnout: can we prevent it, or is that the wrong question?

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As we prepare for our Youth Mental Health Question Time event in London this evening, Lucinda Powell considers a meta-analysis looking at the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing teacher burnout.

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Preventing anxiety with psychological and educational interventions

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Inês Pote publishes her debut elf blog about a recent systematic review on the effectiveness of psychological and/or educational interventions in the prevention of anxiety.

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Can virtual reality CBT help people with psychosis be more sociable?

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André Tomlin appraises a new RCT published today of virtual reality CBT versus waiting list control for paranoid ideation and social avoidance in people with psychosis.

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Can social recovery therapy improve social functioning in psychosis?

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Lisa Wood publishes her debut blog about a recent RCT of social recovery therapy in combination with early intervention services for enhancement of social recovery in patients with first-episode psychosis: the SUPEREDEN3 trial.

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Can gamified cCBT prevent depression in secondary school students?

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Lisa Burscheidt summarises a school-based RCT of an online gamified cCBT intervention (SPARX-R) for preventing depression in final year secondary school students in Australia.

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