Wikipedia describes Cognitive behavioral therapy by saying

CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation."

On the other hand, even before coinage of the term CBT various therapists where using some techniques that could influence personal coping strategies. That leaves the question about whether those therapists were also doing CBT without them knowing or whether CBT is defined in a way that only certain techniques count as CBT.

How is the term defined?


2 Answers 2


What is CBT?

As I stated in my answer to a previous question on CBT,

The basic concept of CBT

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was developed by Aaron Temkin Beck, and as mentioned before, CBT is a combination of behaviourism and behaviour therapy, and cognitive theories and their application in therapeutic settings (Reeves, 2013). CBT helps to change how you think, hence the word Cognitive, and what you do, hence the word Behaviour.

A difficult life situation, relationship or practical problem can lead to:

  • Altered thinking
  • Altered emotions and feelings
  • Altered behaviour
  • Altered physical feelings or symptoms

Things can happen the other way too. Any of the above alterations can lead to a difficult life situation, relationship or practical problem (Royal College of Psychiatrists, n.d.).

CBT works by trying to get the client to think about a situation in a more helpful way in order to move forward using more helpful behaviours.

Therefore, if the therapist is looking to help a client to use more helpful behaviours by getting them to think about their situation in a more helpful way, then the therapist is using a form of CBT.


Reeves, A., 2013. An Introduction to Counselling and Psychotherapy: From Theory to Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd..

Royal College of Psychiatrists, n.d. 5 Areas Assessment. [Online]
Available at: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/treatmentswellbeing/cbt/5areas.aspx
[Accessed 5 May 2017].

  • $\begingroup$ That means that there are a lot of people who do CBT, who do techniques that aren't proven to work? $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Jan 17, 2018 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ There is a lot of emphasis on CBT and a lot of therapists are using it because it is a preferred form of therapy under IAPT. With complex issues such as trauma, it is a short term sticky plaster (6-8 sessions max.) to allow the client to move forward, but it doesn't necessarily deal with the root cause of trauma. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2018 at 19:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is not helpful. According to Wikipedia "Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways". To me, this seems like the same thing you said but stated in a different way. So are you saying all psychotherapy is CBT? $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2019 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ @WilliamOliver - Wikipedia is not always accurate and the following sentence is a bit more accurate than that. "Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills." CBT looks at helpful and unhelpful behaviours but doesn't look at emotions, thoughts, feelings etc. hence the name cognitive behavioural therapy. Psychotherapy does look at behaviours, but it also looks at everything else connected to those behaviours. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2019 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers I think that makes sense. But how would you distinguish a technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy from a technique in just Behavioral Therapy? Is there a difference? $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2019 at 19:34

Certainly only certain techniques count as CBT. The definition is not so abstract that any form of therapy can be interpreted as CBT. CBT is when a patient is taught to reflect on their thought process and to try to change it to be more conducive to a healthy, productive life. The focus on unhealthy mental processes and behaviors - and replacing them with healthier, more rational thinking/actions - is what defines CBT.

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