Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in a Globalized World
Taking care of our mental health is essential, no matter where we are in the world. In the more Western parts of the world, psychological interventions, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),are
effective in treatinga wide range of common mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety,
post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.). However, the effectiveness of CBT as applied in other areas of the
world is much less discussed. Fortunately, there is some evidence from high–quality studies (e.g.,
systematic reviews, clinical trials) suggestingthat CBT is linked to favourable mental health outcomes
compared to other treatments in diverse contexts.
Cultural adaptations in CBT
What is culturally adapting a treatment? It can be defined as modifying an evidence-based treatment to
consider the patient‘s cultural context. Interestingly, CBT can be adapted to different cultural contexts.
Several systematic reviews suggest that CBT’s effect on mental disorders is actually stronger when the
treatment is adapted to local cultural contexts. Further, cultural adaptions for treatment can take many
forms relevant to the local culture. For instance, questionnaires have been translated to local languages
and then tested to ensure fidelity to the original scale;more time can be taken to explain the techniques,
processes, and aims of CBT. Additionally,culturally appropriate stories and metaphors have been integrated
into the delivery of the CBT. In order to continue adapting CBT to more cultural contexts, it is of
primordial importance to develop a better understanding of how mental disorders are experienced and
expressed in various ways by the patient.
CBT delivery in low-and middle-income countries
Although CBT can be flexible to context, there are obstacles to CBT intervention delivery in low- and
middle-income countries (LMIC) where resource deprivation (such as fewer mental health professionals
available to deliver treatment) is disproportional. This is problematic given that unique sociocultural
factors in LMICs contribute to the increasing prevalence of mental health problems. Fortunately, it has
been found that local nurses, volunteers, university students, social workers, and students can be trained
as lay counselors to effectively deliver CBT.
There is global evidence supporting the effectiveness of culturally adapted CBT among LMICs. For
instance,two systematic reviews reported similar findings of results suggesting that psychological
interventions, including CBT, significantly improved outcomes in a range of common mental disorders
(e.g., depression, schizophrenia) among LMICs, including regions such East Asia and Pacific, Eastern
Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle
East (Patel et al., 2007; Singla et al., 2017).Similar results have been reported in Sri Lanka and rural
Pakistan. Short-term sessions of CBT led to reduced symptoms of medically unexplained symptoms and
increased patient satisfaction (Sumathipala et al., 2000) and improvements in depression (Rahman et al.,
2008). A more recent systematic review assessing current evidence of trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT) in
low-resource community settings in East or Central Africa found that TF-CBT effectively treated
trauma-related symptoms and improved psychosocial functioning in both children and adolescents
(Thomas et al., 2020).
Cultural experiences and expressions of psychological problems
Cultural diversity around the globe may lead to assumptions that treatments developed in one region of
the world may not be effective when implemented in other regions. Given the vast diversityand
influence of one’s culture, it is also often assumed that psychological problems are uniquely experienced
depending on one’s cultural environment. However, evidence from global research suggests that there
are more similarities than differences in how psychological problems are experienced throughout the
world. Although psychological problems are expressed in various different ways, often depending on
the context, the symptoms of distress share common features. The effectiveness of CBT has been rigorously
examined in Western regions of the globe; however, research findings pointtoward CBT as perhaps the
only evidence-based psychological intervention that can beadapted to diverse cultural contexts to
improve mental health outcomes around the world.
Author: Sasha Gunpat, M.A
Graduate Student in Clinical Psychology
Patel, V., Araya, R., Chatterjee, S., Chisholm, D., Cohen, A., De Silva, M., … & Van Ommeren, M. (2007).Treatment and prevention of mental disorders in low-income and middle-income countries. TheLancet, 370(9591), 991-1005.
Rahman, A., Malik, A., Sikander, S., Roberts, C., & Creed, F. (2008). Cognitive behaviour therapy-basedintervention by community health workers for mothers with depression and their infants in ruralPakistan: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 372(9642), 902-909.
Singla, D. R., Kohrt, B. A., Murray, L. K., Anand, A., Chorpita, B. F., & Patel, V. (2017). Psychologicaltreatments for the world: lessons from low-and middle-income countries. Annual review ofclinical psychology, 13, 149-181.
Sumathipala, A., Hewege, S., Hanwella, R., & Mann, A. H. (2000). Randomized controlled trial of cognitivebehaviour therapy for repeated consultations for medically unexplained complaints: a feasibilitystudy in Sri Lanka. Psychological medicine, 30(4), 747-757.
Thomas, F. C., Puente‐Duran, S., Mutschler, C., & Monson, C. M. (2020). Trauma‐focused cognitivebehavioral therapy for children and youth in low and middle‐income countries: A systematic