Researchers summarise how cognitive-behavioural therapies have been successfully adapted and implemented for youth in Japan

Cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT) have become increasingly popular over the past few decades.

This psychological treatment, used to treat problems ranging from marital issues, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression, has been adopted by clinicians around the world.

However, the implementation of CBT still lags outside the Western countries where it was first developed.

In a new review article, researchers examined the most popular CBT programmes for young people in Japan, a country that is culturally distinct from the West.

After identifying the most predominant CBT programmes through a literature review, researchers interviewed authors to understand how these programmes were implemented in the country.

The article has contributions from Professor Shin-ichi Ishikawa and Kohei Matsubara of Doshisha University and Kohei Kishida of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Kwansei Gakuin University.

Ishikawa, who is also the corresponding author of the article, said: “Because CBT was developed among Western cultures, clinical psychologists wrongly assume that it may not be suitable for Japanese youth. 

“Our findings, however, indicate substantial research evidence for the effectiveness of CBT in youth with anxiety and depression in Japan.”

The authors also found a considerable increase in the number of published research on CBT for Japanese youth in the last two decades.




Cultural adoption in Japan


One major challenge that psychologists outside the West face when adopting CBT is that its content may not be appropriate for patients from non-Western cultural backgrounds.

The authors of this article, however, found that top CBT programmes in Japan have undergone cultural adaptation to better suit the patients in the country.

Cultural adaptation primarily involves modifying programme content and material to include culture-friendly programme names, acronyms, illustrations, and characters.

For instance, all four predominant CBT programmes examined in the study incorporated Japanese cartoon/ comic strips known as ‘Manga’ to make the content more relatable to patients.

In addition, there are several cultural adaptation strategies that have helped adjust CBT programmes and protocols for Japanese youth.

These strategies are based on the user-centred design (UCD) principle to psychosocial interventions and have facilitated the successful implementation of CBT programmes by psychologists in Japan.




The article lists several factors that made CBT programmes effective among Japanese youth: First, the use of structured but flexible sessions helped improve learning in young people; second, careful selection of psychologists and high-quality training/ consultation ensured that programmes were implemented well, and that treatment was effective; and third, retaining existing time frames and staff who work in clinical settings helped scale-up CBT services.

According to Ishikawa: “These findings could encourage dissemination of CBT for youth not only in Japan but also in other countries where the diffusion of evidence-based psychotherapies is lagging.”

CBT programmes also have several long-term implications for mental health support.

In Japan, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have been linked to educational barriers, particularly absenteeism.

CBT could thus play a pivotal role in improving the educational attainment of Japanese students.

Ishikawa concluded: “We must continue to educate the public about mental health issues in youth beyond educational problems for the next five to ten years and promote evidence-based psychotherapies, specifically CBT.”  

We hope that the CBT movement will help break the social stigma and provide support to young people dealing with mental health issues, as well as their families and parents.

This article provides strong arguments in favour of further culturally adapted CBT research to help people live their lives to the fullest extent possible.

The article is published in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review.

Image 1: A fashionable youth. Credit: No machine-readable author provided. Berntgrapher assumed (based on copyright claims). CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Image 2: An example of a comic strip used in culturally adapted cognitive-behavioural therapy for Japanese youth. Credit: Shin-ichi Ishikawa and Yoko Kamio.

Research Aether / Humanity Uncovered