How to learn cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Published 23 March 2022. Written by Chris Worfolk.
If you are looking to become a cognitive behavioural therapist, there is no replacement for professional training. But there are lots of ways to develop your knowledge.
In this article, we'll explore some of the best methods.
A high-quality training course will teach you all of the fundamentals of CBT. This is an important place to start as understanding the core concepts will allow you to develop your skills later on.
Training courses vary from introductory courses that take a few hours to professional courses that require several years of full-time study. The latter is likely to include work placement for you to develop your skills on real-life clients.
There is a huge range of literature on CBT, including:
Practitioner textbooks written by professionals for professionals. These take the place of the therapist and often present case studies and include handouts and worksheets that can be useful.
Self-help books written for clients. While these are not aimed at practitioners themselves, they can often be useful in understanding the process from a client's perspective and may be useful as a handout to clients.
Scientific research and academic journals. This will allow you to access the most up-to-date research on CBT although, unfortunately, all too often it is hidden behind a paywall that only universities can access.
Another way to understand CBT from a client's perspective is to undertake a course of CBT yourself.
While therapy is traditionally used for those who meet the diagnostic criteria for mental illness, the reality is that everyone can benefit from greater self-understanding, improved functioning and well-practised strategies for keeping ourselves happy and healthy.
While working with a therapist may be the gold standard, not everyone has the time or money for that. An alternative is to use CBT skills and practice them on ourselves.
For example, we can learn the different cognitive distortions that CBT identifies and apply them to everyday situations such as relationships, work, stressful situations and any other area of our lives we would like to improve.
We can do this in our head, but when starting it may be better to use actual worksheets to help us get into the mind of working as a therapist.
Practice on others
Practising psychotherapy is not to be undertaken lightly as doing the wrong thing could make things worse for a vulnerable client.
However, we may have friends or family that are not struggling with mental illness but would nevertheless benefit from looking at their cognitive biases, distortions, and pursuing their goals using cognitive behavioural methods.
A good way to do this is to suggest a self-help book to them and work through it together, with you acting to provide an additional perspective to everything they learn.
Study related fields
Even if you are already a CBT practitioner there are lots of ways to expand your knowledge. One option is to study related modalities.
CBT is an overall term and so we could learn about the different types of CBT. For example, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Or we could look at how CBT has been applied in other ways, such as Cognitive Behavioural Coaching.
CBT has been expanded on in several directions. Therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) are CBT-based but integrate mindfulness tools.
Finally, we could also study other forms of psychotherapy such as humanistic and person-centred therapy.
There are many different avenues to learning cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These include traditional academic learning, hands-on experience and studying related fields to get a broader perspective.