mental health

How Long Does It Take Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) To Work

We take an in-depth dive into CBT and how long it takes to support your mental health.
Daniel Botcherby (he/him)
May 1, 2023

How Long Does It Take Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) To Work

Almost everything we do as humans must be learned; very little comes naturally. Our parents, extended family, instructors, coaches, and classmates significantly impacted how we developed our thinking abilities.

We learned some helpful thinking patterns, but we also learned others that weren't helpful.

The good news is that we can learn new ways of thinking by identifying thought patterns that are highly negative or unproductive.

Specifically, our ideas influence our emotions and our actions. As part of cognitive restructuring, we recognise and reject ineffective ideas and then actively stop thinking about them. We then replace those thoughts with new, more productive ones.

CBT examines the relationship between ideas, feelings, and behaviour.

But how much time does it take to complete CBT? Let's find out!

Critical Elements Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Patients are taught to be their therapists by understanding their existing thought and behavioural patterns and learning strategies to modify them. 

The significant aspects may be classified into two categories to support CBT's systematic, problem-oriented emphasis.

Wright (2006) proposes that therapists and patients work together to uncover maladaptive cognitions and behaviours, verify their validity, and revise them as necessary. 

This collaborative technique is designed to help patients identify and manage issues successfully. Rapport, authenticity, understanding, and empathy are non-specific characteristics of therapeutic interaction.

Homework assignments can help patients continue their efforts beyond the therapy session and reinforce CBT ideas. It optimises treatment efficiency, promotes learning, and targets particular issues and solutions. Before each session, the therapist and patient develop a plan together.

The Steps Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

We can teach ourselves new thinking patterns if we can detect thought patterns that are negative and unhelpful!

 A CBT strategy that helps with this is Cognitive restructuring.

In cognitive restructuring, we recognise wasteful thinking, catch ourselves thinking such ideas, consciously stop and reject them, and replace them with new, more productive ways of thinking.

Step 1: 

Get a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line from top to bottom across the centre. Old or unproductive thoughts will be in the left column, while the right column will be titled "Replacement Thoughts."

Write down any ideas that aren't constructive in the left column. 

Thoughts that are nervous, concerned, negative, self-critical, self-deprecating, or any other thoughts that hold you back or make you unpleasant are all examples of negative thoughts.

In the first-person tense, express your ideas as though you were speaking them aloud.

Step 2: 

Create a new positive thought for each unproductive idea in the right column. 

There are a few methods to approach constructing your replacement ideas. First, try writing the opposite of your negative thinking – however, this is often oversimplified.

"If my unproductive thought is a lie or is wrong in some manner, then what is the truth?" Suppose my unproductive ideas are partially accurate or incomplete; what might I say to myself to be more truthful or realistic?

Cognitive restructuring can effectively assist individuals in shifting their thinking. 

Stress management, for instance, aims to replace stressful thinking (cognitive distortions) with more balanced, non-stressful thoughts. The new thinking should be more productive, constructive, and self-affirming. 

Ensure your replacement ideas don't include lying to yourself and assuring yourself that things will be OK. It is not about deceit. You are self-coaching by focusing on the good and affirming your potential to improve yourself and the environment around you.

When you have a negative idea, replace it with a good one. Repeating happy thoughts to oneself whenever feasible and even sharing them with others helps a lot.

Step 3: 

Replace your thoughts at least twice daily by reading your list of replacements daily. 

Before getting out of bed in the morning, read the list aloud. You will become more adept at recalling your replacement ideas as you practise throughout the day.

Keep an eye out for any ideas that aren't useful, and stop yourself from thinking about them. Let go of that old way of thinking for a minute — you can imagine yourself tossing that concept away in the garbage. 

Allow yourself to internalise the appropriate replacement notion by speaking it out to yourself. 

Even if thinking about that new notion didn't make you feel better immediately, expect that feeling to alter with time.

Step 4:

At least twice a day, read your list of substitutes and replace your ideas. As you practise, you'll improve your ability to recollect and recall your replacement ideas throughout the day.

You must allow yourself to assimilate the suitable replacement thought by expressing it to yourself. Look out for any thoughts that aren't beneficial and stop yourself from thinking about them.

Consistency and persistence are key to cognitive reorganisation. Initially, you'll have to reject and substitute your ideas daily. Soon you'll find yourself naturally thinking of new ideas instead of old ones.

How Long Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Take?

CBT for anxiety treatment requires a certain number of sessions to be effective. Still, there are certain common elements to consider. For instance, the government's mental health guidelines (NICE) suggest that six to 24 sessions of therapy should be sufficient. 

However, since each person is unique, there will be some differences in the study results. Those suffering from severe anxiety might discover that they recover more quickly than anticipated, while those suffering from moderate anxiety might need further help due to circumstances at play.

For Severe Anxiety

The most extensively used treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT has been shown to treat panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder. 

Severe anxiety might need as many as 24 sessions of cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT).

The typical course of traditional CBT treatment is weekly sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes each throughout 12 to 20 weeks.

For Moderate Anxiety

Moderate anxiety may be effectively treated with as little as six CBT sessions or as many as twelve to twenty-four sessions.

Symptoms lurking in the shadows for years before therapy might take longer for some individuals.

CBT treatment may have limitations in its capacity to assist patients in recognising and addressing the main causes of their anxiety when treating moderate anxiety levels.

When the core causes are addressed, individuals may have a deeper understanding of the difficulties that make them anxious.

Building momentum might be difficult if you aren't visiting your therapist regularly or putting in the necessary effort between sessions.

Consider a referral to a doctor if your symptoms are so severe that treatment isn't enough and you'd want to learn more about prescription options.

As a result, they may be better prepared to cope with any "unexpected worry" that arises in the future. 

For Mild Anxiety

Mild anxiety may be effectively treated with as little as six CBT sessions or as many as twelve to twenty-four sessions of CBT. Symptoms lurking in the shadows for years before therapy might take longer for some individuals.

Treatment sessions typically run for 30 to 60 minutes and are spaced across five to twenty sessions. 

This kind of therapy involves separating the many aspects of a person's life contributing to their issues into discrete components that the patient and their therapist may address.

Pros And Cons Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is as beneficial as medication in treating various mental health disorders. However, it is not always successful or appropriate for all patients.


  • CBT may be delivered in various ways, including in groups, in self-help books, and online, due to its rigid procedure. 
  • Because of the nature of the mental illness, those afflicted often have a negative outlook on the future. CBT inspires feelings of hope.
  • It boosts self-esteem.
  • It can aid in calming the mind and body and improves one's ability to think logically.


  • Attending frequent CBT sessions and completing additional work between sessions might consume much of your time.
  • CBT entails facing your feelings and fears - you may suffer early anxiety or emotional discomfort due to the process.
  • There is no indication in the study that the unethical practices implemented by the researchers resulted in adverse effects. 
  • Some detractors contend that while cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) mainly targets present difficulties and concentrates on particular concerns, it does not address the probable underlying causes of mental health illnesses, such as a traumatic upbringing.


As much as our cognitive powers have been responsible for our numerous successes, they may also be accountable for our troubles.

Cognitive therapy effectively treats anxiety and many other mental health issues.

The typical course of treatment takes 12 to 20 weeks, with one session per week lasting 30 to 60 minutes each.

So, if you find yourself in need of CBT, then do not hesitate to contact us!

Was this article helpful? Let us know in the comments.


Can you pass your CBT in one day?

CBT typically takes one day. However, there is no time restriction on how long it can be done. Aside from that, there is no pass or fail; people who aren't ready after one day continue until they "attain" the required level.

What is the success rate of CBT?

After 5 – 15 modules, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is 50-75 per cent successful in alleviating depression and anxiety.

Can CBT cure anxiety?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most extensively utilised treatment for anxiety disorders.

According to scientific evidence, it has been demonstrated to help treat panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder, among many other diseases.

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