What is cognitive behavioural therapy?
Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a form of talking or psychological therapy (psychotherapy). It is used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. CBT is based on the idea that how we think about a situation affects how we act, and our actions affect how we think and feel. CBT involves looking at problem areas and breaking them down into thoughts, feelings and actions. Working with the therapist you identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and look for ways to face situations in a more helpful way.
How is cognitive behavioural therapy given?
CBT can be delivered in a number of ways. Typically, CBT consists of a series of hour or half hour sessions. You might see a therapist in a group setting or one-to-one. CBT can also be delivered by computer or on the telephone.
CBT is available on the NHS, though availability varies across the UK. If you feel CBT may help you, or you would like more information, talk to your GP or MS nurse.
Research into CBT
A number of studies have looked at CBT as a treatment for MS-related symptoms.
A review of several studies found that CBT had a similar effect on managing depression as standard treatment with antidepressant drugs.
A study of an approach where the CBT therapist contacted people by telephone found that it led to greater decreases in disability, fatigue levels and depression than an emotional support programme,
Another study found CBT was more effective than supportive listening for people adjusting to the early stages of MS, particularly for people who were highly distressed.
CBT has also been studied as a treatment for fatigue. A trial comparing CBT with a relaxation training programme found both were helpful, though CBT was more effective.
Use our tool to help narrow down the different types of treatments for your MS symptoms.
Be kind to your mind
Practical steps you can take to improving and maintain your mental wellbeing.
Living well with MS: a role for psychology?
A team in Surrey set up a psychology service offering CBT and MBCT, approaches that research has shown can help people adapt to and cope with living with MS.
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Last updated: July 2018
Last reviewed: July 2018
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- BMC Psychiatry 2014; 14: 5. Read the full article Cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of depression in people with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Health Psychology 2007;26(5):554-563. Summary Reduction in disability in a randomized controlled trial of telephone administered cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013:81(2):251-262. Summary A randomized controlled trial of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for adjusting to multiple sclerosis (the saMS trial): Does CBT work and for whom does it work?
- Psychosomatic Medicine 2008; 70(2):205-213. Summary A randomized controlled trial of cognitive behaviour therapy for multiple sclerosis fatigue.