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Cognitive behavioural therapy goes by a few names, including rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT). The different forms of CBT have slightly different approaches and place their emphasis on different techniques, but all these approaches have a common element: they have the common basic tenet that emotions and behaviours result from our thoughts or the way we interpret events. Irrational thinking gives rise to discomfort and symptoms of psychiatric illnesses such as in mood and anxiety disorders.

This means that it is at times possible to relieve symptoms by teaching people to examine and question automatic thoughts, beliefs and meanings in order to determine whether or not they are rational or useful. People are not only taught to question their thoughts and beliefs, but also to devise experiments to test the validity of their beliefs.

The efficacy of CBT is more researched than any other psychotherapeutic intervention. The efficacy of the approach is good enough for it to be the recommended treatment intervention for numerous emotional problems, for example anxiety conditions, depression and trauma. There are a number of studies which indicate that CBT alone is more effective than medication alone in the treatment of anxiety conditions and depression. There is also evidence that relapse happens less often following CBT than when using other forms of psychotherapy or medication.

In what way does CBT differ from other psychotherapeutic approaches?
CBT is orientated in the present. CBT does not ignore the past; it is acknowledged that various dysfunctional or unhelpful beliefs develop because of difficult life experiences. For example, a child who grows up with parents who are very critical and demeaning may believe he is not capable of achieving anything in his life, or a woman who is raped may feel that she is dirty and damaged and will never again have a normal life. In CBT the main focus is on challenging and changing those beliefs and the behaviour which results from them in the present.

CBT is orientated towards problem-solving. It is extremely practical and focussed. Changes in thinking and behaviour are actively pursued.

CBT is a skills-based intervention. The focus is on teaching people the necessary skills to be able to apply them in their daily living.

Rational and irrational thinking
As mentioned, CBT claims that irrational beliefs underlie discomfort in our lives, as well as psychiatric symptoms. It is related to various unhelpful emotions and can lead to bad decisions and behaviour.

How are rational and irrational beliefs defined?
Rational beliefs are adaptable and moderate, help people attain their goals, are logical and consistent with reality. Irrational beliefs are rigid and extreme, not pragmatic, illogical and not consistent with a tested reality.