The first session of therapy will include time for the therapist and you to develop a shared understanding of the problem. This is usually to identify how your thoughts, ideas, feelings, attitudes, and behaviours affect your day-to-day life.
You should then agree a treatment plan and goals to achieve, and the number of sessions likely to be needed. Each session lasts about 50-60 minutes. Typically, a session of therapy is done once a week. Most courses of CBT last for several weeks. It is common to have 10-15 sessions, but a course of CBT can be longer or shorter, depending on the nature and severity of the condition.
You have to take an active part, and are given homework between sessions. For example, if you have social phobia, early in the course of therapy you may be asked to keep a diary of your thoughts that occur when you become anxious before a social event. Later on you may be given homework for trying out ways of coping that you have learned during therapy.
CBT is one type of psychotherapy (talking treatment). Unlike other types of psychotherapy, CBT tends to deal with the here and now - how your current thoughts and behaviours are affecting you now. It recognises that events in your past have shaped the way that you currently think and behave; in particular, thought patterns and behaviours learned in childhood, However, CBT does not dwell on the past, but aims to find solutions to how to change your current thoughts and behaviours so that you can function better now and in the future.
CBT is also different to counselling, which is meant to be non-directive, empathetic and supportive. Although the CBT therapist will offer support and empathy, the therapy has a structure, is problem-focused and practical.
CBT has been shown in clinical trials to help ease symptoms of various health problems. For example, research studies have shown that a course of CBT is just as likely to be effective as medication in treating depression and certain anxiety disorders. There are longer-term benefits of CBT over medication, as the techniques to combat these problems can be used for the rest of your life.
CBT does not suit everyone and it is not helpful for all conditions. You need to be committed and persistent in tackling and improving your difficulties with the help of the therapist. It can be hard work. The homework may be challenging. You may be taken 'out of your comfort zone' when tackling situations that cause anxiety or distress. However, many people have greatly benefited from a course of CBT.