cbt cover

Cognitive behavioural therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a form of talking therapy which can help individuals to identify and change negative patterns of thought and behaviour. Supporting problem-solving and development of individual coping strategies, CBT makes it easier to see how issues are connected and how they affect you. This in turn helps you to gain more control over the issues you’re facing and build coping skills.

In summary, our thoughts drive our emotions which in turn lead to physical symptoms and ultimately determine our behaviour.

2 CBT Cycle

CBT is based on the premise that what happens in one area of our lives can affect all aspects of our wellbeing, and that there are helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to most situations depending on how one thinks about it.

The five key areas of the CBT approach are:

  • The situation
  • Associated thoughts
  • Connected emotions
  • Resultant physical feelings
  • Actions taken.

Because it focuses on the identification of triggers and the development of ongoing coping strategies, CBT can be delivered effectively over the telephone. Unlike traditional forms of counselling, it can also be provided through online self-guided learning.

CBT in action

To help you understand more about how CBT works let’s take a look at Joe.


Joe has had a really difficult day at work and feels on edge and frustrated, so he decides to go for a short walk. During his walk Joe sees his friend Sara who walks past him and doesn’t acknowledge him. This starts a cascade of automatic reactions and behaviours from Joe. For example:

 Unhelpful reactionsHelpful reactions

What Joe thinks

Sara has ignored me because she doesn’t like me. What have I done to upset her?

Sara looks preoccupied with something. I hope that she’s okay.

How Joe feels

Low, sad and rejected.

Curious and compassionate. Joe is concerned about what might be happening for Sara.

Joe’s physical reactions

Tight jaw, shakiness, churning tummy.

None (neutral).

The action Joe takes

I’m going to avoid Sara if I see her again.

I’ll call Sara next week to see how she is.

Source: Royal College of Psychiatry (2013)

The same situation has led to two very different outcomes depending on how Joe interpreted Sara’s reaction to him. Granted, perhaps Sara ignored Joe because she doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Even so, Joe will never know this, or have the chance to sort things out with her, unless he approaches the situation differently.

Keeping the scenario of Joe and Sara in mind, it’s easy to see how CBT works: how we think affects how we feel and what we do. In the example above, Joe jumped to a conclusion without any evidence which has led to a number of uncomfortable feelings both emotionally and physically, and behaving in a way that makes him feel even worse.

To take this a step further, Joe has two choices:

1. After seeing Sara, Joe goes home feeling upset and rejected. Joe draws conclusions about Sara based on extremely limited information making it unlikely that he will contact her to check on how she is. Sara might have had a hectic day and was deep in thought when they passed each other, making it possible that she didn’t even see him.

2. After seeing Sara, Joe goes home and wonders how Sara is. He recognises that they’ve not had a falling out, nor is there any basis for her to ignore him making it possible that she just didn’t see him. Joe gets in touch with Sara the next day and she explains that she didn’t see him because she was caught up in the aftermath of some bad news she’d received that day.

When we’re distressed, we’re more likely to jump to conclusions and interpret things in extreme and unhelpful ways which will only make us more distressed. As this ‘vicious circle’ develops it can make us feel worse. It can even create new situations that make us upset. We can start to believe quite unrealistic and unpleasant things about ourselves, and make our lives harder than they need be.

CBT can help to break this vicious circle of altered thinking, feelings and behaviours. When we can see a problem realistically, we can change the way we feel and behave. CBT aims to get someone to the point where they can do it for themselves and work out their own ways of tackling problems in the future.

What types of issues can CBT help with?

CBT has been shown to help people with many different types of problems, including, but not limited to:

  • Mild to moderate anxiety
  • Mild to moderate depression
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias including agoraphobia and social phobia
  • Stress
  • Mild eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar affective disorder (when the person is well enough to benefit from CBT).

CBT may also help if the person has difficulties with anger, low self-esteem, or physical health problems such as chronic pain or fatigue.

Accessing CBT through the Retail Trust

At the Retail Trust we offer both telephone and computerised CBT (cCBT) dependant on your needs.

Where CBT is provided over the telephone typically clients will be offered between four and six sessions. Although the specific number of sessions available to you will depend on the issues you are experiencing and the most appropriate level of support required to assist you. All sessions are 50 minutes in duration.

The counsellor you work with will arrange to call you at a pre-agreed time. It’s important to ensure that you are available at your allocated time and have the privacy to enable you to speak freely during your sessions.

All CBT counselling provided by the Retail Trust is delivered through our network of experienced and qualified counsellors, through the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

If you are assessed as suitable to undertake cCBT via our online learning modules, one of our team of highly experienced counsellors will advise you on how to register for support and help get you started. This approach to support allows you to work through six online sessions of cCBT at your own pace, without the need to schedule sessions with a therapist. The courses have been designed by clinical psychologists and will help you in building an increased understanding of your issues and how to identity your triggers and develop personalised coping strategies.

It’s important to note that CBT is a highly specialised model and doesn’t suit everyone. In some cases, CBT can even make someone’s problems worse. The Retail Trust has a duty to ensure that all colleagues are provided with the very best therapeutic experience and therefore, you might not be recommended for CBT. However, in all cases, we will explain why and ensure that you receive the right kind of help.

Get in touch with the Retail Trust

To find out more about CBT, please call our confidential helpline on 0808 801 0808 or email the team at helpline@retailtrust.org.uk

You may find the following resource helpful:

A guide to the Retail Trust counselling service