CBT or Cognitive Behaviour(al) Therapy (or Psychotherapy) is an umbrella term for a group of therapies aimed at reducing the impact of emotional upset and distress. It is often described as being a ‘talking’ therapy, although it may be more appropriate to also consider it to be a ‘doing’ therapy, due to its highly practical nature and its behaviour therapy origins.
CBT essentially focuses on the link between our thoughts and images (the cognitive processes), what we as people do (our behaviour), and how this impacts on how we feel (our emotions and physiology). It is also very much a ‘here and now’ therapy, although it would be a mistake to suggest CBT is not concerned with the past.
Slightly paraphrasing the Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus,
People are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
In simple terms , the cognitive model can be described as:
Event–> Appraisal / Interpretation of event—> Emotion
This idea was developed by Aaron T Beck (1976), who suggested that people are not disturbed by events but by the interpretation of the event. Therefore, the cognitive approach aims to understand why people appraise events as they do. The cognitive behavioural approach into human difficulties takes into account the meanings, emotions and behaviours of the individual within the context of their past experiences and current environment. In other words, how people think can affect how they feel and subsequently how they behave. Simplifying the process, in a nutshell CBT is essentially about changing the way you think, interpret and appraise an event, and/or change the way you behave around an event to effect change in how you feel about an event. This can be seen by the following diagram.
Beck, A. (1976) Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders, London, Penguin.