Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Our rating
Adolescents 1 smiley: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
Adults 3 smileys: This treatment is very useful. It is strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
Older adults 3 smileys: This treatment is very useful. It is strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

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.

How does it work?

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.

Is it effective?

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.

Are there any disadvantages?

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.

Where do you get it?

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.

Key references

  • Barth J, Munder T, Gerger H, Gerger H, Nuesch E, Trelle S,Hansjorg Z, Juni P, Cuijpers P. Comparative efficacy of seven psychotherapeutic interventions for patients with depression: A network meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine 2013; 10: e1001454.
  • Cuijpers P, Berking M, Andersson G, Quigley L, Kleiboer  A, Dobson KS. A meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioural therapy for adult depression, alone and in comparison with other treatments. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2013; 58: 376-385.
  • Cuijpers P, Hollon SD, van Straten A, Bockting C, Berking M, Andersson G. Does cognitive behaviour therapy have an enduring effect that is superior to keeping patients on continuation pharmacotherapy? A meta-analysis. BMJ Open 2013; 3: e002542.
  • Dubicka B, Elvins R, Roberts C, Chick G, Wilkinson P, Goodyer IM. Combined treatment with cognitive–behavioural therapy in adolescent depression: meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry 2010; 197: 433–440.
  • Gould RL, Coulson MC, Howard RJ. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression in older people: A meta-analysis and meta-regression of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2012; 60: 1817–1830.
  • Hetrick SE, Cox GR, Merry SN. Treatment-resistant depression in adolescents: is the addition of cognitive behavioral therapy of benefit? Journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management 2011; 4: 97-112.
  • Ma D, Zhang Z, Zhang X, Li L. Comparative efficacy, acceptability, and safety of medicinal, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and placebo treatments for acute major depressive disorder in children and adolescents: a multiple-treatments meta-analysis. Current Medical Research and Opinion 2014; 30: 971-995.
  • Pinquart M, Duberstein PR, Lyness JM. Effects of psychotherapy and other behavioral interventions in clinically depressed older adults: A meta-analysis. Aging and Mental Health 2007; 11: 645–657.
  • Simon SS, Cordás TA, Bottino CM. Cognitive Behavioral Therapies in older adults with depression and cognitive deficits: a systematic review. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2015; 30: 223-33.
  • Watanabe N, Hunot V, Omori IM, Churchill R, Furukawa TA. Psychotherapy for depression among children and adolescents: a systematic review. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 2007; 116: 84–95.
  • Weisz JR, McCarty CA, Valeri SM. Effects of psychotherapy for depression in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 2006; 132: 132-49.
  • Wilson K, Mottram PG, Vassilas C. Psychotherapeutic treatments for older depressed people. Cochrane Database Systematic Review. 2008; 1.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019