Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) | Supporting the recovery of those with a mental health diagnosis

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Can we change our behaviours by challenging the negative thought processes that lead to those actions? This is the premise of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is used to help people who are living with a mental health diagnosis or suffering with an addiction to a substance by changing the negative and deeply-ingrained thought patterns that lead to repeating adverse behaviours. These negative thought processes and often long-held beliefs can diminish our ability to make more positive choices, and are typical indicators of addiction and other mental health conditions. In this blog we take a deeper look at what CBT is and when and how it is used.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used to help us understand how our thoughts and feelings affect our behaviour. It combines two separate talking therapies. Cognitive therapy: this explores the things we think. And behaviour therapy: this explores the things we do.
Our emotions affect our thoughts and the way we behave, and in turn, the way we behave affects our emotions and our thoughts. This creates a negative cycle.


CBT focuses on changing negative thought cycles and behaviours by investigating how a person’s thoughts and views affect their feelings and behaviour. Personal coping strategies are then developed to enable the individual to deal with different problems and situations.

In this video Dolly explains how CBT helped her form new thought patterns and coping mechanisms to help her with her psychosis:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in practice | CBT exercises

CBT is used to treat a range of mental health disorders such as anxiety and panic attacksbipolar disorderborderline personality disorderdepressioneating problemsobsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)phobiaspost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)psychosis and schizophrenia.

It is also used to treat a range of addictions including

CBT breaks problems down into 5 areas: situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions It is based on the idea that these 5 areas are interconnected and affect each other.

  • The therapist and the individual will work together to identify situations, thoughts and feelings that occur before and after as a result of a perceived negative situation e.g. drug use.
  • The therapist will then help the individual to develop personal copying techniques where they will learn new healthy habits to replace the old negative habits.

CBT can be delivered through 1 to 1 or group sessions, self-help books and online devices. There are a range of CBT techniques to suit each individual. Here are some exercises used within CBT:

Imagery Based Exposure: “Imagery” refers to the  pictures, sounds, smells, and other sensory information we process. In practice, you think of a memory that has strong negative emotions and remember it with sensory details. Whilst doing this, you then identify the emotions and thoughts that were experienced and how they made you behave. You keep visualising this image in detail until your level of distress is reduced. When a person is less distressed by negative memories, they’re able to choose healthier coping habits.

Mindfulness Meditation: This CBT exercise helps people detach from harmful thinking or obsessing. It helps the individual learn to connect to the present moment. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing our attention to whatever we are doing in the present moment without any distractions or judgment. It allows us to become aware of our thoughts and feelings without being consumed by them.

Behavioural Experiments: Experimental activities are planned to explore the validity of an individual’s beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them. Click here for more information. 

Thought Records: A thought record is like a diary for your thoughts that helps you record how you react to a situation. You write down the situation, what you were feeling at that time and how intense the feeling was and the unhelpful thoughts. You then explore the unhelpful thoughts and create an alternative balanced perspective. A thought record is designed to get you into the habit of paying attention to your thoughts and actively working to change them.

Activity Scheduling: Helps people engage in behaviours that they would usually avoid. This technique involves identifying a rewarding/positive behaviour and finding time throughout the week to schedule the behaviour to increase its regularity.


There is no miracle cure, some therapies that work for one person might not work for another. Often it may take several different approaches to help on the journey to recovery from a mental health diagnosis and most importantly not relapse. CBT can used alongside support groups, medication and other forms of clinical and behavioural therapy.

At Northern Healthcare we use CBT as a form of therapeutic intervention to help the people we support with their mental health diagnosis. CBT contributes to a wider recovery model in which residents also receive enhanced clinical support from a Mental Health Nurse and Occupational Therapist, as well as 24-hour support. For more information click here.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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