What is Psychotherapy & Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

In short, CBT is a form of psychotherapy treatment which involves a therapist assisting a client to identify and solve problems by focusing on their thinking, behaviour and emotions. The overall theory is that your beliefs influence your emotions and your behaviour, therefore by identifying and addressing problematic thoughts you can change your behaviour and improve your way of life.

How does it work?

Although there are different CBT approaches, each method focuses on identifying the client’s underlying thoughts, beliefs or assumptions which affects their life.  One approach, developed by psychologist Albert Ellis, uses an ABC model for change. The ABC Model asks you to record a sequence of events in terms of:

  • A – Activating Event (also sometimes described as a ‘Trigger’)
    • Write down the event or situation that triggered your thoughts and feelings.
  • B – Beliefs (for example, the thoughts that occur to you when the Activating Event happens)
    • Write down the thoughts that went through your head when the activating event occurred (or after it)
  • C – Consequences – how you feel and behave when you have those beliefs
    • Consequences may be divided into two parts: 1) Actions – What did you do? 2) Emotions – What did you feel?

Below is an ABC example of how a single activating event can result in different beliefs and behaviours.

Constant back pain.


My   back is broken and it cannot be fixed.

 If I   do anything it will make my back worse

I can   still do some things but not everything.

Feeling = Depressed.
Behaviour = Stay in bed all day and avoid everyone.

Feeling = Fear and Vulnerability.
Behaviour = Avoid all previous enjoyed activities.

Feeling = Hopeful.
Behaviour = Continue with previous enjoyed activities that are not extremely physical.
(least amount of negative consequences)

With the assistance of a therapist, you can examine the ABCs of any given situation in which change is desired. For instance, you are directed in scrutinizing whether your beliefs are justified, based on erroneous assumptions or thinking errors. It is important to clarify whether the situation and the evidence justifies your beliefs. After all, the goal of CBT is to help you react and behave in a more constructive way.