Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy that is done with the help of a therapist. CBT has two main components: cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. Cognitive therapy teaches people how to overcome distorted, negative thinking patterns linked with depression. Behaviour therapy teaches skills and ways to change behaviour. For example, during CBT a therapist might help their client to do more things that bring them joy, help their client to solve problems in their life, or teach their client more effective social skills.
People who are depressed can have distorted thinking patterns. They often see themselves and their situation more negatively than others see it. These thinking patterns can make their depressed mood worse. In cognitive behaviour therapy, people learn how to identify and challenge their distorted thinking patterns with the help of their therapist. Developing a more realistic and positive way of thinking is likely to improve people’s mood and help them cope more effectively with everyday situations.
CBT can be delivered in different ways. For example a therapist can work with a single person or groups of people. People can also learn the techniques taught in CBT by themselves with books or on a computer.
There is a lot of scientific evidence on CBT for the treatment of depression in adults and older adults. More scientific studies on CBT for the treatment of depression in adolescents are needed.
Across all age groups, CBT has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. CBT is more effective than no treatment at reducing depression symptoms. CBT can also be used alongside antidepressant medication, and using both of these treatments together is more effective at reducing symptoms of depression than only taking antidepressants or only learning CBT. Studies have shown CBT is about as effective as other psychological therapies in treating depression.
CBT may involve seeing a therapist weekly for several months which can be expensive. In Australia Medicare provides rebates for visits to trained therapists (see below).
CBT may not be suitable for severely depressed people because they may have difficulties concentrating and learning the new thinking skills.
CBT is provided by therapists such as clinical psychologists, psychologists or counsellors who have been specially trained to provide this therapy (see Psychologists and other therapists). In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme. CBT may also be covered by some private health insurance funds. It is available from therapists employed in hospitals or government-funded clinics. Self-help books on CBT can be bought in most bookshops and many online programs are available for free.
You can learn more about cognitive behaviour therapy techniques in moodgym and e-couch, our online programs.
CBT appears to be an effective treatment for depression and is recommended as a first choice of treatment.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019