Don’t worry, be happy! What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and does it work?

Don’t worry, be happy! What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and does it work?


Should you just not worry and be happy?¹ Can you make yourself happy just by thinking you’re happy?  Maybe. Using one of our favourite phrases on this blog, it is complex and much is unknown…

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the concept that it is the thoughts that you have about events, rather than the events themselves, that determine your behavioural and emotional responses

Many of our thoughts can be “Negative Automatic Thoughts” – such as:

  • all or nothing thinking (your friend cancels coffee and you think “of course they cancelled, they don’t like me, no one likes me, there is nothing about me that is likeable”)
  • catastrophising (you fail an exam and you think “I will fail my whole degree and I will never be able to get a job and I will never have any success in a career”)
  • magnifying (you accidentally send an email to your boss instead of your friend and you think “I will be fired, I will get a bad reference, I will never get another job, I will not be able to pay the mortgage and I will be homeless”)

Sound familiar? Yep, it’s not just you who has these thoughts – we all do at some point! But if these thoughts are too dominant/common you can become depressed or overly anxious and it can really impact on the quality of your life.

CBT teaches you to how change those thoughts, and therefore change unhelpful behaviours and emotions.

CBT has become a popular form of therapy (including with the NHS) for a number of mental health conditions, especially depression and anxiety. It is popular because there is evidence that it can be effective and because it can be delivered relatively inexpensively in a relatively short timeframe.

If you’ve been looking into mindfulness you have might have heard of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This is a structured 8 standardised 8 week course which combines mindfulness and principles of CBT (see our blog post on Mindfulness).

How effective is CBT? There is (surprise, surprise) conflicting evidence. There is evidence that, speaking generally, it can be as effective as anti-depressant medication. In a nutshell – the evidence suggests that it can be helpful, but not always.² For people with significant trauma or dealing with complicated and challenging circumstances it is possible, but unlikely, that a short course of CBT will be sufficient.

If you are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious or that your mental health is just not as good as you think it could be, CBT is definitely an option that you should consider. It is a bit more complicated than “think happy thoughts”, but it is a straightforward therapy that many people who don’t feel comfortable with “Capital T Therapy” find accessible.

If you’re feeling stressed, depressed, anxious or your mental health is just not as you want it to be, we support you to work out what could make you feel better and how to do it.  Click here to see how we can help you. Please reach out and call us on 0798 480 5351 or email us at We have consulting rooms in Brighton and London and consult online to anywhere in the world.

Nicole Shinnick is the Founder, Managing Director and a Lead Consultant at Bilantia. She is a Certified Mindfulness Based Awareness Coach and currently completing a Master of Science, Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King’s College London. 

¹ For the young folk, this is a reference to the 1988 smash hit (yes, we used that term unironically in the olden days) “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, by Bobby McFerrin. This song was around when “happy pants” were The Fashion. While the evidence on CBT might be subject to debate, there is irrefutable evidence (self survey just conducted) that wearing loose legged trousers with an elasticated waist definitely does make you happy. So if CBT doesn’t work for you, happy pants may be the answer. It’s all about finding out what works for you…
² Aaron T Beck is known as the “father of CBT”. See, for example Beck, A. (1970). “Cognitive therapy: Nature and relation to behaviour therapy”. Behaviour Therapy. Vol 1(2). For an interestingrecent insight into his views see Beck, A., & Bredemeier, K. (2016). A Unified Model of Depression: Integrating Clinical, Cognitive and Evolutionary Perspectives. Clinical Psychological Science, Vol. 4(4) 596–619.
³ Driessen, E. & Hollon, S. (2010). “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood Disorders: Efficacy, Moderators and Mediators”. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Vol 33(3),p  537.; Shilyansky, C., Gyurak, A., Harris, A., Usherwood, T., & Etkin, E. (2016). “Effect of antidepressant treatment on cognitive impairments associated with depression: a randomised longitudinal study”. The Lancet. Vol 3, No. 5, p425.