Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help you look at how your thoughts and behaviour affect your depression

CBT can be really effective as a treatment for depression. Dr Chris Williams told us more about it.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

CBT was developed to help people make practical changes in their thoughts (‘cognitions’) and actions (‘behaviours’) in order to improve how they feel. It is a way of talking about how you think about yourself, the world and other people and how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

How does CBT help depression?

CBT can help you to make sense of overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts. This makes it easier to see how they are connected and how they affect you.

These parts are:

  • The situation – Problems in your life to do with your relationships or practical issues.
  • Thoughts – At times of distress, a lot of people become dominated by negative and upsetting thoughts that worsen how we feel – is this true for you?
  • Emotions – Any strong emotions you are experiencing such as anxiety, guilt, shame and sadness.
  • Physical Feelings – Depression affects our bodies as well as our emotions.
  • Actions – All of these problems can affect your activity levels and affect how you live your life. You may avoid doing things, or start doing things like drinking to block how you feel – however, these responses sometimes backfire and become part of the problem.

How effective is CBT?

  • It is one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem.
  • It is the most effective psychological treatment for moderate and severe depression.
  • It is as effective as antidepressants for many types of depression.
  • For severe depression, CBT should be used with antidepressant medication. When you are very low you may find it hard to change the way you think until the antidepressants have started to make you feel better.

Two common misconceptions about CBT:

  1. CBT is only about thoughts and behaviours– It isn’t, it’s about the whole person.
  2. CBT ignores the past. Although CBT focuses on here and now problems, it doesn’t ignore the past. Things that have happened to us in the past teach us important rules about how we see and judge ourselves and those around us. CBT focuses on how the past affects us today and tries to help change things that continue to upset or affect us.

How do I get CBT?

  • Speak to your GP. They may refer you to someone trained in CBT- for example, a psychologist, nurse, social worker or psychiatrist.
  • The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) keeps a register of accredited therapists as do the UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) and the BPS (British Psychological Society).
  • You can try self-help – using a book, internet programme or computerised CBT. This is more likely to work if you also receive support from a professional.

CBT from Action on Depression

Living Life to the Full Interactive is a computerised CBT-based life skills programme. You do to the course on your computer, but you also get phone support from our self-help coach Susanne, and it’s free for people living in Scotland.

We also offer community courses based on CBT in Lothian, the Highlands and East Ayrshire.

Alternative treatments for depression?

A key issue when choosing a therapy is whether you wish to work in a particular way, and whether the approach proves helpful for you. We have different world views, and sometimes the CBT model may just not make sense to us. There are a number of evidence-based treatments other than CBT that have been found to help people get better. Find about more about other talking treatments and about other things that can help depression by following these links.

Useful CBT web links

  • Living Life to the Full – free online CBT.
  • Mood Gym – free online CBT course from Australia.
  • Moodjuice has free worksheets on common mental health issues like depression and anxiety based on CBT.
  • BABCP – Britsh Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.

About the Author

Dr Chris Williams is a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow. He is a past president of the BABCP, the lead body for cognitive behaviour therapy in the UK. He is the author of several self-help packages and books, including” Overcoming Depression” and “Living Life to the Full”. For more information visit and