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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): information for young people

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): information for young people

About this leaflet

This leaflet is for anyone who wants to know more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It discusses how it works, why it is used, its effects, side-effects, and alternative treatments. If you can't find what you want here, there are sources of further information at the end of this leaflet.


What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

  What causes these worries and anxieties?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment, a “talking therapy”.  It aims to help you understand how your problems began and what keeps them going.  CBT works by helping you to link the way that you think (your thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), with how you feel (your emotions) and what you do (your behaviour).

  • What you think
  • What you feel
  • What you do

There are many types of treatment available to help with mental health problems in young people.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in helping young people with a wide range of problems, including:

  • low self-esteem
  • depression
  • anxiety problems
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • disorders
  • post–traumatic stress disorder

For some young people, CBT may be used as well as medication.



Our thoughts and emotions often cause us problems.  For example:

Situation: Your friend doesn’t ring you

Unhelpful thoughts

They don’t like me


You feel sad


Feel sick


You don’t go to your friend’s party

Helpful thoughts

Something is wrong


Worried about your friend


You feel fine


You ring – they had lost their mobile


The key point is that sometimes our thoughts are unhelpful and sometimes they are not accurate. This pattern of thinking can lead to many problems.

The goal of CBT is to help you learn a more balanced way of thinking and to change any unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving. 


What will CBT do for me?


if I agree to take part in CBT, what will I have to do?

CBT helps you understand the link between your thoughts, emotions and behaviour.  This is important because sometimes, when you talk about things that are difficult, you may feel worse to begin with.  It teaches you skills:

  • to overcome these problematic thoughts, emotions and behaviour
  • to find ways of overcoming negative thinking and challenging unhelpful and inaccurate thoughts or beliefs.

CBT is not about thinking more positively!

CBT helps the way you feel to improve what you think and what you do.

By being able to approach situations in a more balanced way, you will hopefully be more effective in solving your problems and feel more in control of your life.



If you are offered CBT, you will be expected to meet with your therapist regularly.  To help your therapist to understand your difficulties, you will be asked to complete some questionnaires or worksheets.  These may be repeated throughout your treatment.  Your therapist will monitor how you are getting on.

The therapist will help you understand your problems and teach you ways of dealing with them. You will be expected to practise them outside of your therapy (for example, at school or college or at home).  This means that tasks or homework will be set at the end of the meeting.  You may be given worksheets to help remind you of what you need to do. 

Why do I have to do homework?

Unfortunately, you cannot learn to ride a bike by reading a book. Any skill you want to learn requires practise.

CBT will help you learn:

  • how to overcome negative thoughts (she doesn’t like me)
  • unhelpful behaviours (not going to the party)
  • difficult emotions (feeling sad)

It is important to practise the CBT skills you are taught for the following reasons:

  • to be sure that you understand them;
  • to check that you can use them when you need to (e.g. when you are feeling upset about something);
  • so that any problems you may have in using these skills can be worked on in your therapy.

It’s not always easy to learn new skills, so you will need lots of support from your therapist, your family/carers.


Further info  


  • Youth2Youth – the UK’s first National Young Person’s helpline, run by young people, for young people. You can contact them by email, for an online chat or by telephone.

Summary of cognitive behavioural therapy interventions recommended by National Institute of Clinical Excellence

Therapies, treatments and medication: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: chapter by Dr Chris Williams, The Mind: A User’s Guide, Bantam Press.

With grateful thanks to Dr Clare Lamb from the Cedar Court Adolescent Unit in North Wales.

Editorial Board: Child and Family Public Education Editorial Board. 


Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our FAQ for advice on getting help.

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