CBT in Context

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the most widely-used talking treatment in the contemporary world, with significant political and economic backing within the UK health service, and a rising profile in Global Mental Health. Its techniques are also widely

influential in private practice, self-help, social work, educational, occupational and criminal justice contexts, including rehabilitation and deradicalization. The adoption and development of behavioural therapies since the 1950s, and the rise of CBT in recent years, has been closely bound up with the history of the NHS, the rise of evidence-based medicine, and changing understandings of the welfare state, the individual and society.

CBT is also the subject of significant and often polarised controversy in the public sphere, and clinical and service-user culture. This project is a collaboration across History and Policy Studies, Qualitative Health Research and Anthropology to understand the context of CBT in society and culture, past and present. It also looks to give, as far as possible, an impartial voice to service user experiences of CBT-based interventions, distilled from the professional politics and political ideologies that often shape public discourse and media coverage.

CBT in Context is funded by a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship and is led by Dr Sarah Marks (PI, Birkbeck Historical Studies), Prof Jonathan Smith (co-I, Birkbeck Psychological Sciences) and Dr Sarah Bernays (collaborator, THRU-ZIM/LSHTM/Sidney), with research strands led by Dr Becka Hudson (Birkbeck Historical Studies), Dr Rachel Starr (Birkbeck Psychological Sciences) and Dr Cliff Zinyemba (THRU-ZIM/LSHTM).

The project has four main strands, with research focused on the UK, US, Zimbabwe and Ghana, but with attention to broader transnational currents and comparisons. The Birkbeck team also work in partnership with The Health Research Unit Zimbabwe.

  1. The Rise of Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies since 1950 (Marks)
  • Experiencing CBT (Starr, Smith & Marks)
  • Criminal Justice, Behaviour Management & CBT (Hudson & Marks)
  • CBT and Global Mental Health (Zinyemba, Bernays & Marks)