What is CBT in Health and Social Care

What is CBT in Health and Social Care?

Mental Health

Care Learning

5 mins READ

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognised form of psychological treatment that is used in health and social care.

This therapeutic approach is grounded in the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and aims to help individuals manage their problems by changing unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving.

Principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

  1. Cognitive Restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging distorted or irrational thoughts. By restructuring these thoughts, individuals can see their situations more clearly and respond to them in a healthier, more balanced way.
  2. Behavioural Activation: This focuses on encouraging individuals to engage in activities that are likely to improve their mood and reduce avoidance behaviour. This can help break the cycle of depression and anxiety.
  3. Present-Focused: Unlike some other forms of psychotherapy that delve into past experiences, CBT is primarily focused on tackling current problems and finding practical solutions.
  4. Skill-Based: It teaches individuals specific skills and techniques that they can use to cope with difficulties in their lives. These skills can include relaxation techniques, problem-solving strategies, and ways to confront and overcome fears.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in Practice

  • Assessment: The initial stage involves assessing the individual’s mental health and identifying the problems they wish to address. This can include completing questionnaires and having discussions with a therapist to understand the individual’s thought patterns and behaviours.
  • Goal Setting: Both the therapist and the individual work together to set specific, achievable goals. This collaborative approach ensures that the therapy is tailored to the individual’s needs and aspirations.
  • Session Structure: CBT sessions are typically structured and time-limited. Therapy may last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the complexity of the issues being addressed. Each session usually lasts about an hour.
  • Homework Assignments: Individuals are often given tasks to complete between sessions. These assignments help reinforce the skills learned during therapy and enable individuals to apply them in real-life situations.

How it is used in Health and Social Care

  1. Mental Health Disorders: CBT is effective in treating a wide range of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  2. Chronic Health Conditions: It can also be beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease, where managing emotional stress is crucial for overall health.
  3. Substance Abuse: CBT techniques are used to help individuals understand the triggers and behaviours associated with substance misuse and develop strategies to avoid relapse.
  4. Social Care Settings: In social care, CBT can assist individuals in building resilience, improving social skills, and managing stress related to their environment or life circumstances.

Access and Availability

CBT is usually available through the National Health Service (NHS) and can be accessed via referrals from GPs, mental health professionals, or through self-referral in some cases.

Private practitioners also offer CBT, and there are many online resources and courses available that provide CBT techniques and support.

Examples of CBT in Health and Social Care

Here are some examples of how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is applied in different care settings:

Primary Care Settings

Example: A GP Surgery

  • Scenario: A 35-year-old woman presents with symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. She struggles with negative thoughts that affect her daily functioning and work performance.
  • CBT Application: The GP refers her to an in-house CBT counsellor who conducts an initial assessment and sets treatment goals. Through a series of sessions, she learns to identify and challenge her negative thought patterns, practice relaxation techniques, and gradually engage in activities that she has been avoiding.
  • Outcome: Over several weeks, she reports a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms and an improvement in her ability to manage stress at work.

Secondary Care Settings

Example: Community Mental Health Team (CMHT)

  • Scenario: A 45-year-old man with a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experiencing distressing, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
  • CBT Application: He is referred to a specialised mental health team where he works with a CBT therapist. Therapy focuses on exposure and response prevention (ERP), a technique that helps him gradually face his fears without engaging in compulsive behaviours.
  • Outcome: After several months of therapy, he reports a reduction in the frequency and intensity of his compulsions, along with an improved ability to cope with intrusive thoughts.

Inpatient Care Settings

Example: Psychiatric Ward

  • Scenario: A 28-year-old woman admitted for severe depression and suicidal ideation. She has been hospitalised multiple times over the past year.
  • CBT Application: Within the inpatient setting, the multi-disciplinary team includes a CBT therapist who conducts individual and group sessions. The focus is on developing coping strategies, using cognitive restructuring to address suicidal thoughts, and creating a relapse prevention plan.
  • Outcome: During her stay, she gains essential coping skills and learns to challenge her depressive thought patterns, leading to a more stable mood and a decrease in suicidal ideation.

Community Care Settings

Example: Community Support Programme

  • Scenario: A young adult with social anxiety who struggles to leave the house and is isolated from social activities.
  • CBT Application: The community support programme offers weekly CBT group sessions that include social skills training and gradual exposure activities in a supportive environment. The individual is also provided with homework tasks to practice these skills in real-life scenarios.
  • Outcome: Over time, the individual becomes more confident in social situations and starts attending community events and forming new friendships.

School Settings

Example: Secondary School Counselling Service

  • Scenario: A 14-year-old student experiencing exam-related stress and anxiety affecting their academic performance.
  • CBT Application: The school counsellor uses CBT techniques to help the student identify and challenge catastrophic thinking patterns about their exams. The student practices relaxation techniques and time management skills.
  • Outcome: The student learns to manage their anxiety more effectively, resulting in improved concentration and performance in exams.

Substance Abuse Treatment Centres

Example: Rehabilitation Centre

  • Scenario: A 40-year-old man with a history of alcohol dependency is seeking long-term recovery.
  • CBT Application: The rehabilitation centre provides CBT-based interventions to help him recognise the thought patterns and triggers that lead to drinking. Techniques like cognitive restructuring and mindfulness are used to develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Outcome: Through consistent CBT sessions, he develops strategies to avoid relapse, maintain sobriety, and rebuild his life.

Long-term Care Facilities

Example: Residential Care Home

  • Scenario: An 80-year-old woman experiencing anxiety and depression after moving into a care home.
  • CBT Application: A CBT therapist visits the care home to conduct sessions focusing on adjusting to the new environment, addressing feelings of loneliness, and developing a routine that includes social activities and hobbies.
  • Outcome: The woman reports reduced anxiety and depression, becoming more active in the care home community and enjoying her daily activities.

Online and Telehealth Settings

Example: Online CBT Services

  • Scenario: A busy professional experiencing work-related stress but unable to attend in-person therapy sessions.
  • CBT Application: He opts for online CBT sessions through a telehealth platform. The therapist uses video calls to guide him through techniques such as stress management and cognitive restructuring, and provides digital resources and homework assignments.
  • Outcome: The professional effectively manages his stress, leading to improved mental well-being while still meeting his work commitments.

In each of these scenarios, CBT provides tailored, evidence-based interventions designed to address specific issues, demonstrating its versatility and effectiveness across various healthcare and social care settings.


CBT is a highly effective therapeutic approach that empowers individuals by equipping them with the tools to understand and change their thought and behaviour patterns.

In health and social care, CBT plays a vital role in promoting mental well-being and improving the quality of life for many individuals. Its structured, evidence-based, and goal-oriented nature makes it a pivotal element of modern therapeutic practices.

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