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What exactly is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a short-term psychological method of treatment that is designed to help individuals identify their unhelpful thinking and behaviour patterns, and to work together with the psychologist to uncover ways of altering them. The goal of CBT is to transform individual negative thoughts and behaviours by substituting them with more positive and enjoyable ones. The CBT approach is found to be effective for different types of disorders, such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, marital problems, eating disorders, alcohol and drug use problems and many severe mental illnesses. CBT works by addressing symptoms while they are current and simultaneously teaches skills and techniques that can be used to improve the mental health of the individual. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be classified as a combination of psychotherapy and behavioural therapy, in which psychotherapy emphasises the importance of personal meaning we place on things, and behavioural therapy emphasises the relationship between our problems, behaviours and thoughts. CBT can be implemented both on adults and children.


CBT is a technique popularly used with children as it helps them change the way in which they identify, interpret and evaluate their emotional and behavioural responses to unpleasant experiences. When a child understands that their emotions and behaviours can be controlled and managed, their skills involved in self-control, emotion regulation, coping strategies and emotional awareness strengthen as they begin to feel empowered. When children feel worried about potential negative outcomes, their mental health starts to detriment and psychological issues begin to develop. Hence, this is where CBT comes to assist- focusing on how thoughts and emotions affect child behaviour.


CBT encompasses an agreed-upon goal and a set number of sessions between the psychologist, child and parent (in cases where the child is a minor). CBT with children has practical everyday applications. It helps the child develop realistic strategies to be used in their lives. Once these strategies become a habit in the child’s life, new skills begin to develop, and healthier habits begin to form. The application of CBT helps children gain self-control over the following: self-defeating thoughts, impulsivity, defiance and tantrums. CBT’s goal is to alter negative responses with positive ones whilst also improving child self-image, obtaining more realistic and better coping mechanisms, developing new problem-solving skills and developing more self-control over their actions. CBT provides distinct techniques in which the child will be able to empower themselves and take control over their actions.


CBT for children encompasses many different techniques: play therapy, trauma-focused CBT, modelling, restructuring and exposure. Play therapy involves the use of arts, props and role play where the therapist works with the child, and in some cases the parent, to address specific issues and come up with suitable solutions to the specific situation. The use of props and crafts helps keep young children engaged in the activity. Trauma-focused CBT involves the therapist focusing on behavioural and cognitive aspects directly related to a traumatic event a child has experienced in life. Modelling is a technique used in CBT which involves the therapist acting out a specific desired behaviour, such as demonstrating how to respond to a bully and then having the child re-enact the scenario and response. The technique of restructuring in CBT allows for the child to understand and comprehend their negative thought processes and in turn alter them to more positive ones. For example, moving from saying “I am the worst at maths, there is no one worse than me” to “I may not be the best at maths, but I am really good at English”. Exposure technique in CBT involves gradually exposing the child to the things that trigger anxiety for them, aiming to help change their thoughts regarding that specific anxiety evoking stimulus. CBT can be performed in many different ways regardless of the technique. Together with the therapist, it can be performed on an individual basis, parent-child basis, family-based approach or even a group approach.


CBT for children includes the following: Assessment, personal education, goal setting, the practice of strategies and homework. Assessments include questionnaires and progress forms (administered to both the parent and child) to help the therapist identify the specific problem the child is undergoing, help pinpoint distressing symptoms and to track the progress of the child as therapy goes on. Personal education requires the child and parent to read through brochures and information booklets in their own time to educate and inform themselves of the specific problem they are going through- familiarising oneself with the diagnosis will help dismiss tenuous fears diminishing their anxiety, for both the parent and the child. Goal setting involves discussing specific goals with the therapist that the child would like to achieve during therapy. The child, parent and the therapist work out practical and achievable strategies to reach these goals. Continual practice of strategies is essential, both in session with the therapist and at home, as role-playing social situations helps replace unhealthy self-talk. Homework incorporates working on the therapy alone, or with the parent (depending on case situation and age), and practising strategies learnt with the therapist in everyday life, for example keeping a diary and a track of all events which have unfolded and their response to each exposure. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that has its therapy duration vary from child to child – each individual case is different, and some cases may resolve quicker than others based on their severity.


If you think Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) sounds like it may benefit you or your child, please don’t hesitate to contact us at or 0433 905 239.

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