How to become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

How to Become a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist

Health and Social Care Careers

Care Learning

5 mins READ

A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) is a professional who specialises in a type of talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy.

CBT aims to help individuals manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave.

This therapeutic approach is widely recommended for a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and other psychological issues.

How to Become One and What You Need

Educational Requirements

To become a CBT therapist, you typically need a strong educational background. Here are the steps you generally need to follow:

  1. Undergraduate Degree: Initially, you will need a degree in a relevant field. This might include psychology, counselling, social work, or nursing. Preferably, a Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related discipline is the most relevant starting point.
  2. Relevant Work Experience: Practical experience in a healthcare or social care setting is highly desirable. Working in roles such as a mental health support worker, nursing assistant, or social worker can provide valuable insights and hands-on experience.
  3. Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma: There are specialised postgraduate programmes specifically for CBT, usually accredited by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). This is a stringent requirement for being a certified CBT practitioner.
  4. MSc in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Some may opt for a full Master’s programme, offering a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of CBT methodologies and practices.

Professional Accreditation

To practice as a recognised CBT therapist, you must become accredited by the BABCP, which involves completing an approved training programme and accumulating a certain number of supervised practice hours. The BABCP maintains stringent standards to ensure that therapists are competent and well-trained.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD)

Maintaining your accreditation requires engaging in ongoing professional development. This may include attending workshops, pursuing further specialist training, and completing supervision.

What It Takes and Skills Needed

Personal Qualities

  • Empathy: Understanding and sharing the feelings of your clients are essential.
  • Patience: Change often takes time, and patience is critical in enabling clients to progress at their own pace.
  • Resilience: Working with people who are experiencing severe emotional pain can be challenging and requires a resilient mindset.

Professional Skills

  • Communication Skills: You’ll need to articulate complex concepts in a way that clients can understand.
  • Analytical Skills: Assessing a client’s needs and developing a coherent and effective treatment plan requires strong analytical skills.
  • Critical Thinking: You’ll often need to identify different ways to approach specific issues that may not respond well to standard treatments.
  • Active Listening: To adequately understand and help your clients, active listening is crucial.

What You Will Do

Key Responsibilities

  • Assessment: Conduct in-depth assessments to diagnose client issues. This can involve filling out a variety of mental health questionnaires and structured interviews.
  • Treatment Planning: Develop personalised treatment plans tailored to each client’s needs.
  • Therapeutic Sessions: Conduct one-to-one therapy sessions, usually one hour-long each, where you employ CBT techniques to help clients understand and alter their thought and behavioural patterns.
  • Progress Monitoring: Regularly evaluate and document the client’s progress, altering treatment plans as necessary.
  • Crisis Intervention: In case of emergencies or severe emotional distress, provide immediate support and intervention.
  • Record-Keeping: Maintain thorough and confidential client records. This is both a legal requirement and essential for tracking progress.
  • Supervision: Regularly attend supervision meetings to discuss cases, seek advice, and ensure that you are providing the best possible care.

The Work Setting

  • NHS Settings: Many CBT therapists work within the NHS. This might include hospitals, community mental health teams, or general practitioner (GP) surgeries.
  • Private Practice: Setting up a private clinic is an option. This allows for greater flexibility in terms of working hours and the type of clients you see.
  • Schools and Universities: Some CBT therapists work within educational settings, providing support to students.
  • Charitable Organisations: Numerous mental health charities employ CBT therapists to work with vulnerable populations.
  • Occupational Health: Large corporations and businesses often employ CBT therapists to support employee mental health.

Typical Work Hours

Full-time therapists typically work around 37.5 hours per week. Private practitioners might have more flexible schedules but tend to work evenings and weekends to meet client needs.

Career Progression Opportunities

Specialist Roles

  • Advanced CBT Practitioner: With experience, you could specialise further in areas such as trauma-focused CBT, CBT for eating disorders, or CBT for complex PTSD.
  • Supervisor/Trainer: Experienced therapists can become supervisors or trainers, mentoring new therapists and facilitating workshops.
  • Researcher: Engage in research to contribute to the development of new CBT techniques or to explore its effectiveness for different conditions.

Leadership Roles

  • Clinical Lead: Overseeing the delivery of mental health services within a larger organisation, such as an NHS trust.
  • Service Manager: Managing a particular mental health service, ensuring that it meets clinical and operational standards.

Teaching and Academia

  • University Lecturer: Teach CBT at universities, contributing to the education of future therapists.
  • Publications: Write books, articles, or contribute to academic journals on the subject of CBT.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the average salary of a CBT therapist in the UK?

The average salary varies depending on experience and setting. Starting salaries can range from £30,000 to £40,000 annually. Experienced therapists, particularly those in private practice, can earn upwards of £50,000 per year.

Is accreditation necessary to practice CBT in the UK?

Yes, accreditation by the BABCP is highly respected and often necessary to be recognised as a qualified and competent CBT therapist in the UK.

Can I practice CBT part-time?

Yes, part-time work is possible and may be ideal for those who need flexible working hours or have other commitments.

What kind of issues can CBT help with?

CBT is effective for a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, phobias, and more.

Is being a CBT therapist stressful?

While the job can be emotionally taxing, many therapists find it highly rewarding. Regular supervision and self-care are crucial to managing work stress effectively.

Do I need a psychology degree to become a CBT therapist?

While a psychology degree is highly beneficial and often preferred, other relevant degrees combined with necessary postgraduate qualifications and accreditation can also lead to a career in CBT.

How long does it take to become a CBT therapist?

From start to finish, it typically takes around six to seven years. This includes obtaining an undergraduate degree (3-4 years), gaining relevant work experience, and completing postgraduate training (2-3 years).

Can I switch to CBT from another healthcare profession, like nursing?

Yes, many healthcare professionals transition to CBT. They often need to undertake specialised postgraduate training and gain accreditation from the BABCP.

Is online training available for CBT?

Some components of CBT training might be available online, but practical, supervised sessions are essential and are generally conducted in person.

What is the future outlook for CBT therapists?

Given the increasing awareness and recognition of mental health issues, the demand for qualified CBT therapists is expected to rise, making it a secure and promising field for the future.


Becoming a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist is a rigorous but rewarding journey. It requires a solid educational foundation, practical experience, and professional accreditation.

The role demands a range of personal and professional skills but offers diverse work settings, substantial career progression opportunities, and the chance to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Whether you aim to work within the NHS, set up a private practice or engage in academic research, the career pathway is both fulfilling and versatile.

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