Over the past 40 years, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — frequently abbreviated as CBT — has become one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy available to patients and clinicians. And for good reason: no other therapy in the world has as much evidence for effectiveness in treating anxiety and depression. While CBT arose in the context of treating depression, variations of CBT are now used to treat a broad variety of mood ailments, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bulimia. Hundreds of randomized controlled experiments have now demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT for a wide range of problems.
The mood disorders that CBT was developed to treat affect millions of people in the United States alone, and hundreds of millions throughout the world. Unfortunately, not everyone who suffers from them has access to professional therapeutic treatment — and many who do avoid treatment because of the social stigmas around mental illness. But even if you're not seeing a therapist, you can begin learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how to apply it in your own life.
If you're feeling depressed or anxious, or you feel that you may have a problem that a therapist could help with, we strongly recommend you seek out a CBT-trained therapist in your area. Seeking direct professional assistance is almost always the best first step for those suffering from significant levels of depression or anxiety. However, if you're not willing or able to see a therapist at this stage, there are some great self-help resources you can use as an alternative. For depression, we recommend the book Feeling Good, which is one of the best introductions to applying CBT to your own life. For anxiety or stress, we recommend When Panic Attacks, which is an excellent primer on CBT for anxiety. Both books are by renowned psychologist David Burns, are very well-liked by readers, and have helped many thousands of people by teaching evidenced-based methods for feeling better. Feeling Good has even been the subject of multiple experiments, showing that reader's depression scores improve more than those placed on a wait list.
If you're not ready to buy a book and want a quick introduction to CBT, Self-Help.Tools is an excellent resource. Compiled by British clinical psychologist Matthew Whalley, this site provides all of the resources necessary for using CBT techniques to improve your psychological state without the assistance of a therapist, for free. As the site puts it:
"The key message of CBT is that we can change the way we feel by changing the way we think and how we act. The ultimate aim of any cognitive behavioral therapy is for you to become your own therapist. This goal is the same whether you see a CBT therapist, or whether you learn via self-help."
All CBT involves a lot of self-regulation and self-examination, such as taking notes on recurring negative thoughts or engaging in regular tasks intended to improve mood. Self-Help.Tools' CBT Task section provides walkthroughs and worksheets designed to shepherd users through these techniques. It also offers a wealth of supporting information, such as descriptions of CBT's fundamental principles and brief rundowns of the mood disorders it's most effective in dealing with. And for those who decide that they could use some trained help in using CBT techniques to control their psychological issues, the site provides some resources on how to contact a qualified professional.
If you're struggling with mood problems but either can't or don't want to resort to direct therapy, try Feeling Good (for depression), When Panic Attacks (for anxiety) or Self-Help.Tools (to learn more about CBT).