What does a CBT therapist do?

A cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT) is trained to assess and support children, young people or adults with common mental health difficulties or severe mental health problems. They take a strategic, practical and solution-focused approach to help their clients, such as teaching clients to solve problems by modifying negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours. 

The CBT therapist forms a relationship with the client through ongoing collaboration which enables the therapist to identify patterns of thinking that can impact the clients feelings and behaviour. Cognitive behavioural therapists use techniques such as homework, behavioural experiments, thought records and exposure activities identify and address problems. 

Examples of the day-to-day tasks of a CBT therapist include:

  • Assessing if a client will benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Discussing therapy plans, building relationships and teaching clients relevant skills and techniques
  • Encouraging the client to talk and focusing on what the client wants to change
  • Keeping records and following data protection and confidentiality rules.

Skills needed to become a CBT therapist

Cognitive behavioural therapists help their clients to overcome mental obstacles. They need to be equipped with a specific range of skills to make their clients feel comfortable and encourage them to speak up and discuss what they are feeling. Essential skills of a CBT therapist include:

  • Active listening: This is a communication skill which goes beyond simply hearing the words that another person is saying; it seeks to understand the meaning and intent behind their words. It requires you to be fully present in the conversation, use eye contact, notice non-verbal cues and reflect on what has been said. 
  • Empathy: CBT therapists need to be empathetic. By displaying empathy, it shows your client that you are listening, understanding, and experiencing what the client is sharing. 
  • Patience: CBT therapists need patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. Cognitive behaviour therapy is an ongoing process and can take time to break through and produce results so patience is paramount to ensure clients feel supported without putting pressure on them or their process.
  • Verbal communication skills: The role of a CBT therapist is widely revolved around communication. Good communication skills are important to explain complex concepts, techniques and skills clearly so that the client fully understands. 

I would say to anybody thinking about undertaking a career in physiological therapies that if they are interested in wanting to help people and interested in any form of psychological intervention, then a career within the NHS in psychological therapies is a fantastic opportunity for them” – Jacky Smith (1)

Qualifications required to become a CBT therapist

Becoming a qualified cognitive behavioural therapist is a long process which requires you to achieve a doctoral degree in cognitive behavioural therapy. To achieve this qualification, you first will need to complete an undergraduate and postgraduate degree. 

Steps to become a CBT therapist

Complete an undergraduate degree in psychology or similar subjects

The first step to becoming a cognitive behavioural therapist is to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology. This will give you an understanding of the knowledge and skills necessary to practise CBT. Common elements taught in this course are human development, behaviour, interpersonal skills, research methods and statistics. Psychology courses can be studied at numerous universities across the UK. These courses are typically highly competitive so it is important to achieve strong grades in relevant A-level subjects and references to ensure acceptance onto the course.

Get experience working with vulnerable people

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, it is time to get some real world experience. You may wish to join an agency or apply directly to private practices. This will give you insight into the career and give you some experience before progressing your education in the area.

Complete a postgraduate degree

Completing an accredited postgraduate training course in cognitive behavioural therapy will provide you with more advanced training and experience. Postgraduate degrees in cognitive behavioural therapy typically have a two-year duration and include supervised clinical placements where you can apply your learnings to real life situations. To become an accredited cognitive behavioural therapist, you must complete a postgraduate course run by a nationally recognised body, such as the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) or the British Psychological Society (BPS).

Get more experience

Once qualified with a postgraduate degree, it is time to get more experience under the supervision of another therapist. This can be done through an internship with a clinical psychologist. This experience will give you further insight into the career and allow you to get involved with clients under the supervision of another therapist. 

Complete a doctoral degree

After you get relevant experience, you can apply to complete a doctorate degree in cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a three or four year research degree which will require you to undertake independent research on a relevant topic. The course will also involve a combination of lectures, seminars and practical training. The course will give you an in-depth understanding of how different theoretical approaches work with different client groups and how to apply it in a real life setting to make you a competent cognitive behavioural therapist.

Register with the HCPC and start applying for cognitive behavioural therapist positions

After completing the necessary qualifications, it is time to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a specialist cognitive behavioural therapist. This council keeps a register of health and care professionals who have met their standard for training, professional skills, behaviour and health. Once your registration is accepted, you can start applying for cognitive behavioural therapist roles.

Salary of a CBT therapist

The average salary of a cognitive behavioural therapist(1) working for the NHS in the UK is between £33,706 to £47,672. Trainee therapists usually start on £33,706, (Band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change pay rate scales). While newly qualified therapists can earn £41,659 to £47,672 (Band 7). With experience, you can progress to senior roles with a salary of £48,526 to £65,262 (Band 8).

Other FAQs

What are the working hours of a CBT therapist?

Cognitive behavioural therapists typically work a standard 37.5 hours per week, Monday to Friday. You may be required to work shifts that include some evening work.


1. https://www.independent.co.uk/student/career-planning/getting-job/i-want-your-job-veterinary-nurse-758945.html

2.. http://www.csp.org.uk/professional-union/careers-development/career-physiotherapy