What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of therapy that differs from traditional psychotherapy in that it is a structured, short-term, goal-directed, problem-focused, and active form of therapy. CBT is based on the realization that our thoughts (the “cognitive” part of CBT) can influence our feelings and behaviour about a given situation or event, and vice versa.

Such thoughts are typically negative (e.g., “I can’t succeed in my new job”; “nobody will ever want to be my friend”; “I should have known better”; “I’ll never be as perfect as I should be”) and they happen so quickly that we are usually not even aware that such thoughts crossed our minds; we call these “automatic thoughts”, and they represent a distorted way of thinking about and perceiving experiences or events. CBT is a collaborative approach in which the client and therapist work together in a supportive and respectful manner, with the therapist helping the client to learn to recognize his or her patterns of behaviour and distorted thoughts. The client also learns and practices new ways of thinking about, feeling about and acting towards different situations and events in a safe environment. A major advantage of CBT is that the client learns how to be his or her own therapist, which is a useful tool in preventing relapse.


CBT model

An additional advantage of CBT as a treatment choice is that it does not require the use of medication in order to be effective. In fact, research has consistently shown that CBT is not only an extremely effective method for treating many types of psychological problems, such phobias, anxiety, panic attacks/panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger issues, sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, and chronic pain and illness, amongst others, but also that in some cases it is more effective than medication. It should be noted, however, that medication may, in certain cases, help an individual be able to more easily manage their anxiety levels and mental health problems in order to allow them to engage in the therapeutic process. If, through working together, it seems that medication may be helpful to ensure the best treatment, we can discuss various options and with your written permission I can work with your family physician to help establish the best care. Although psychologists typically have a working knowledge of various psychotherapeutic medications, at the present time we are not licensed to prescribe medication in the province of Ontario.


Anyone, regardless of age, education or background, can benefit from CBT provided they put the work in. Although it is a highly collaborative process with the client and therapist working together in sessions, the client is responsible for:

a) being ready and willing to take responsibility for making personal  changes

b) coming to session ready and willing to work towards making changes

c) completing homework assignments (to the best of his or her ability) in between sessions as part of working toward end goals

d) coming to session willing and able to reflect upon his or her thoughts,  feelings and behaviours