Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): for Parents and young people

This webpage helps anyone who wants to know about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and its use in children/young people.


This is information, not advice. Please read our disclaimer.

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). 


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
  • post–traumatic stress disorder

There is increasing use and evidence of CBT working well in various other problems like sleep, chronic fatigue and chronic pain.

You may be able to access CBT through trained CBT therapists who usually work in specialist teams like CAMHS./Children’s IAPT.

Some may work independently, in schools or voluntary organisations.

Your GP should be able to refer you to the right service.

For older children, there may be online /computerized CBT available for specific conditions like anxiety/low mood.

Self help CBT manual or online CBT can be helpful when one is well motivated and have problems that may not be too severe.

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. 


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. CBT will help you discover skills like:

  • How to understand your individual problem more, as you’re the expert in your problem.
  • Identify links between your thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
  • Arrive at an individualised formulation to what is keeping the problem going.
  • Try out different ways to problem solve

CBT is not about thinking more positively as thoughts are not facts.

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 agree CBT is the right treatment for you, 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 progress within treatment will be monitored and discussed with you on a regular basis, as your views are important.

The therapist will help you understand your problems and help you discover ways of dealing with them.

You will be encouraged 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.

Information for parents

It is very important that parents are actively involved in their child’s therapy.

What we ask is parents to be part of the therapy 'co therapists' with a shared understanding of the problem, clear understanding and belief in the therapy, shared goals, to help parents understand the formulation and maintenance of the problem but not to blame, to be part of the treatment experiments, monitor progress, understand confidentiality and privacy of the sessions.


  • Getting through it with CBT: a young person’s guide – Holdaway, Claire (Book) Teen
    This guide is written for young people who want to understand more about how therapy works and what to expect from it. It can support and help you through your process of therapy and can be used alongside therapy.
  • Getting through depression with CBT: a young person’s guide – Dalton, Louise (Book) Teen
    This guide is written for young people who want to understand more about depression and how therapy could help them with this problem.
  • Getting through Anxiety with CBT: A young person’s guide – Gurney-Smith, Ben
  • Breaking free from OCD: a CBT guide for young people and their families - Derisley, Jo (Book)


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

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


Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Dr Kirsty Woodhead, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy.

This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

About this information

This information reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing. This mental health information for young people was written in 2015.


© 2015 Royal College of Psychiatrists