What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy approach frequently used to treat anxiety and depression as well as many other conditions. CBT helps to make changes in thinking and behavior that help to reduce stress and a variety of mental health symptoms. Research shows favorable results for CBT in addressing a variety of mental health concerns.

What can I expect?

CBT is a therapy approach that tends to be time-limited and structured. At the outset, client and therapist usually work together to set goals for treatment and then sessions are focused on current problems and finding solutions. CBT typically views problems as being the result of maladaptive thinking (the cognitive part) and limitations in skills (the behavioral part).

In CBT, therapists help to make clients more aware of how their current thinking patterns may be contributing to the suffering that they are experiencing. CBT teaches new ways of thinking and reacting to triggers. CBT therapists also help clients examine their behaviors and learn new, more adaptive ways of being.  As thoughts and behaviors change and improve, mood and other symptoms improve as well.

What sort of thoughts will CBT address?

CBT identifies a number of maladaptive thought patterns or cognitive distortions that can negatively affect individuals. These include:

·       Excessive worry or rumination (thinking endlessly about the past or future)

·       Catastrophizing (thinking an event or situation will have huge consequences)

·       Over-responsibility (blaming yourself for events largely outside of your control)

·       Unrealistic beliefs (such as viewing something as within your control, when it is not)

CBT therapists help individuals reduce these thought patterns through techniques such as Socratic Questioning, thought stopping, reducing cognitive distortions (analyzing and instead adopting a more helpful view), and acceptance techniques (being willing to experience whatever is happening).

What new behaviors will CBT teach me?

Since CBT therapists believe that people’s symptoms are due in part to unhelpful behaviors, they help clients to develop more helpful behaviors. These include:

·       Relaxation Training (skills to help calm down or manage stress/anxiety)

·       Social Skills (to make it easier to interact with other people and have good relationships)

·       Exposure (to stop avoiding and start staying with uncomfortable feelings and situations)

It is important to practice CBT skills outside of the therapy sessions in daily life. With practice, these skills are easier to use and apply in challenging moments.

How effective is CBT?

CBT was initially developed to treat depression and showed favorable treatment results, performing comparably or even better than medications. Research shows that CBT is also effective at treating anxiety.  Research findings suggest that CBT is especially helpful for long-term management of symptoms.  The benefits of CBT last longer than the benefits of a medication trial, since the behavioral and cognitive skills persist, while once one stops medication the medication benefits go away.

Next Steps

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, then consider seeking out a psychotherapist, who can help you figure out if Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the right fit for you. A psychotherapist or psychiatrist can use CBT along with other interventions, such as lifestyle changes, to help in addressing anxiety, depression and other symptoms.