The most important distinguishing feature of CBT is the evidence that supports it. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE – the government body responsible for providing national health care guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health) recommends it as the treatment of choice for a range of mental health problems including Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Eating Disorders.
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CBT's effect has been proven time and time again in randomised control trials (the most rigorous way of determining whether a cause-effect relation exists between treatment and outcome) and a wealth of published research studies exist supporting its efficacy (e.g. Cochrane Review – a group of over 10,000 volunteers in more than 90 countries who review the effects of health care interventions tested in biomedical randomized controlled trials). CBT is the only psychotherapeutic approach with such a robust evidence base across a range of mental health problems.
CBT is frequently presented as a 'short term treatment' and although in comparison to other types of 'talking therapy' it is certainly time-limited, it is important to dispel the myth that it offers a quick fix. CBT is used to treat problems that are interfering with a person able to function in one or more areas of their life.
These problems are real, significant and often long-standing and so it stands to reason that to resolve such problems a certain amount of time and energy is going to be needed. A problem that is quick and easy to resolve would not need a course of therapy from a highly trained professional.
The number of CBT sessions that a person needs depends on the severity and chronicity of symptoms but an average minimum is between 15-20 sessions. Many other psychotherapeutic programs (e.g. psychodynamic psychotherapy) can continue for years. The features that enable CBT to be a 'short term' treatment are also important in distinguishing it from other psychotherapeutic approaches.