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Third Wave CBT

9 min read

What is third wave CBT and why is it called the third wave CBT?

The different ‘waves’ of CBT represent the most notable schools of thought in psychological therapy as it has developed over the years. The third wave of CBT is the third significant generation of therapies that come under the umbrella term of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). 

The First Wave

Before this came the First Wave, which was behavioural therapy. This was the earliest therapy, focussing on the application of behavioural change methods. The psychologists who developed this wave are known as the behaviourists. Ivan Pavlov was one of these, you might have heard of his famous Pavlov’s Dogs experiment? 

Behaviourists believed that someone’s actions were influenced by their external environment and that you could even measure and change them through conditioning such as through repetition or reward/punishment.

The Second Wave

The Second Wave, was cognitive behavioural therapy; merging behavioural therapy with cognitive therapy. This introduced more of a focus on how our thoughts impact us significantly rather than just the external environment. 

American Psychologist Aaron Beck termed the phrase “automatic thoughts” to describe thoughts people could identify having which could be unhelpful. Such as a depressed person might automatically jump to a negative conclusion about their self-esteem. By identifying these thoughts people could better understand them in combination with their actions and begin challenging the patterns between thoughts and behaviours. 

The Third Wave

Becoming recognised as a school of thought in its own right within the last 16 years, third wave approaches have adopted slightly different techniques to second wave CBT. It focuses on the relationship between thoughts and emotions, rather than the content of the thoughts or behaviour themselves. For example acceptance and commitment therapy teaches people to develop ways to accept troubling thoughts rather than control them.

Becoming recognised within the last 15 years, third wave therapies use concepts of mindfulness, acceptance, emotions, values, and meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). 

What are the therapies within third wave CBT?

As third wave CBT only emerged within the last 16 years, there is likely to be more coming into mainstream therapies soon. Currently, the most common third wave therapies are:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
  • Functional Analytic Therapy (FAP)
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
  • Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT)
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