21/09/2017 3:20 PM AEST | Updated 21/09/2017 3:20 PM AEST

What Is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy And How Can It Improve Mental Health?

It helps boost general happiness, even if you don't need it for clinical treatment.

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Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is common, effective and can be used by anyone.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps change unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling or behaving.

CBT is commonly used to treat anxiety, depression and drug dependence, as well as everyday problems like difficulty sleeping, relationship issues and job dissatisfaction related to clinical mental health issues. It's regarded as one of the most successful treatments for some mental illnesses.

As CBT is a versatile treatment method, it can be used by anyone, of any age, to improve general happiness, even if it's not needed for clinical reasons.

CBT operates by working with three key elements -- cognition, behaviour and therapy.

Cognitive Therapy

"Cognitive refers to the thoughts and beliefs that we all hold, which can influence how we see the world," Professor Nicole Lee told HuffPost Australia.

Essentially, negative thoughts can be self-destructive and therefore, affect a person's feelings and behaviours. The cognitive element of CBT aims to challenge these negative thoughts and give the person strategies to form healthier thinking processes.

Behaviour Therapy

"Behaviour is about our actions and responses," Lee said.

This element of CBT teaches skills to change the counter-productive way a person behaves. For example, if someone experiences anxiety in a social situation, they may be taught conversational skills to help with their confidence at a party. This will work to reduce negative thoughts about themselves in a practical and proactive way.

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CBT works to challenge negative thoughts and create positive behaviours.

CBT is known for teaching people helpful strategies and skills, where the professional adopts a coaching-style role to teach the client how to be their own therapist.

So, what are these skills and how can we use them to improve our mental health and general happiness? Well, it really comes down to recognising our own internal thought processes and understanding where they come from.

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The professional aims to coach the client to be in control of their own thoughts and actions.

Let's go back to the party or social situation example.

"CBT takes a practical problem solving approach to issues. CBT works by addressing thoughts and beliefs that drive behaviours and feelings," Lee explained.

"For example, someone with social anxiety at a party might think, 'Everyone is looking at me. They all think I'm an idiot. Noone will want to talk to me' -- these are cognitions-- this leads them to feel anxious-- these are the feelings -- which leads them to withdraw -- these are the behaviours -- making it less likely that someone will talk to them, which in turn creates more anxious thoughts and feelings."

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CBT looks at what drives a person's thoughts and behaviours and how that could impact their lives.

CBT works to identify what drives this negative thought and behaviour cycle.

"Some of the strategies we use ... are identifying and understanding these types of thoughts that tend to just pop into our heads without us being aware of them, noticing the internal dialogue and chatter that is unhelpful, reframing those thoughts -- finding another more realistic way to look at the situation -- and testing out assumptions. These types of thoughts are called automatic thoughts," Lee said.

CBT can be used by anyone to help their general mood, even if it's not needed for clinical treatment.

"CBT is suitable to resolve non-clinical problems and to improve well being and happiness. The principles are the same. There are many programs that are online or accessed through self help books -- referred to as bibliotherapy. Or they can have a few sessions with a private psychologist or other CBT practitioner," Lee told HuffPost Australia.

CBT is a very accessible treatment. There are many helpful books and online courses that anyone can use.

As we all have basic beliefs that are developed during childhood, CBT relates to us all.

"The other important 'cognitions' in CBT are 'core beliefs' -- these are fundamental beliefs or rules that we use to understand the world. We all have beliefs that have been developed since childhood. 'I'm unloveable', I'm not good enough', 'I'm useless'. They aren't always negative but it's the negative ones that cause the most problems.

"Usually these beliefs just sit under the surface and we don't notice them, but sometimes they are triggered off by events. For example, if someone with a core belief 'I'm not good enough' is criticised at work, it might cause them to think 'I'm hopeless', 'I can't do anything right' -- the cognitions -- and feel negative about their abilities -- the feelings-- and give up --the behaviour.

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Our beliefs about ourselves and the world are formed when we are very young.

"CBT helps people recognise, understand or change those beliefs so they have less impact on their lives."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.