Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Key points about cognitive behavioural therapy

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that aims to help you change your thinking in order to change your behaviour.
  • CBT aims to help you to understand your thoughts and to think more positively about certain things.
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Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the talking therapies available to treat mental health issues. The therapy can be broken down into two parts: cognition (what you think) and behaviour (what you do).

Because how you behave often depends on how you think, CBT aims to help you to understand your thoughts and to think more positively about certain things. Changing how you think can also change how you feel and act and relate to other people.

CBT focuses on your state of mind in the present and does not necessarily focus on finding out the causes of your problems.

Video: What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? A short explainer - Just a Thought

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(Just a Thought, NZ, 2022)

CBT works by breaking down your problem into smaller parts so that it is easier for you to make sense of how things are connected to each other and how they affect you. These smaller parts are:

  • a situation – a problem, event or difficult situation
  • thoughts or cognitions
  • emotions
  • physical feelings
  • actions or behaviours.

It has been proven helpful for a range of mental health conditions, eg, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, phobias, stress, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and psychosis. It can also help if you have problems with anger management, low self-esteem or chronic pain and fatigue.

A CBT session is clearly structured, and you work together with a therapist. The session focuses on current issues and practical solutions. You may have homework to do in between sessions to reflect on the outcomes of each session and to try new ways of thinking and doing things.

Video: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - CBT

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(external link)
(Werry Workforce, NZ, 2019)

It can take 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on your issue and how you are improving.

You can attend CBT sessions individually or in a group, or by using self-help resources or a computer programme.

You can ask your GP to recommend someone or find a therapist(external link)(external link) yourself.

Beating the blues(external link)(external link) is the most widely used evidence-based online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) programme for relieving depression.
Just a thought(external link)(external link) Free online CBT and therapy for all New Zealanders. Courses for anxiety, depression and COVID related stress. link)(external link) is a New Zealand-based website that uses CBT-based online self-help programmes for depression and anxiety. link)(external link) a CBT-based approach for wellbeing, anxiety and stress that has been adapted for Pasifika cultural groups by LeVa
SPARX(external link)(external link) is a New Zealand CBT-based online resource for young people. link)(external link) is a useful UK site using a CBT approach.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions(external link)(external link) in Australia has CBT-based resources on a range of mental health topics.

Cognitive behavioural therapy(external link)(external link) Patient Info, UK, 2017
Cognitive behavioural therapy(external link)(external link) Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK, 2015
Cognitive behavioural therapy(external link)(external link) Mind UK


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)(external link)(external link) NHS, UK
What is CBT?(external link)(external link) Anxiety Canada
A guide to talking therapies in NZ [PDF, 564 KB] Te Pou, NZ, 2009
He rongoā kei te kōrero – talking therapies for Māori(external link)(external link) Te Pou, NZ, 2010
Talking therapies for Asian people [PDF, 3.1 MB] Te Pou NZ, 2010
Talking therapies for Pasifika peoples [PDF, 3.1 MB] Te Pou NZ, 2010


  1. Nakagawa A, Sado M, Mitsuda D, Fujisawa D, Kikuchi T, Abe T, Ono, Y. Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy augmentation in major depression treatment (ECAM study) – study protocol for a randomised clinical trial(external link)(external link) BMJ Open, 2014;4(10), e006359.
  2. Iacobucci, G. CBT is effective for treating patients with health anxiety, study shows(external link)(external link) BMJ, 2017;358, j4177. 
  3. David D, Cristea I, Hofmann, SG. Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard of psychotherapy(external link)(external link) Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2018;9(4). 
  4. Hofmann SG, Asnaani A, Vonk IJ, Sawyer AT, & Fang, A. The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy – a review of meta-analyses(external link)(external link) Cognitive Therapy and Research. 2012;36(5), 427-440. 

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Tina Earl, clinical psychologist

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