Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term form of psychotherapy directed at present-time issues and based on the idea that the way an individual thinks and feels affects the way he or she behaves. The focus is on problem solving, and the goal is to change clients' thought patterns in order to change their responses to difficult situations. A CBT approach can be applied to a wide range of mental health issues and conditions.

When It's Used

CBT is appropriate for children, adolescents, and adults and for individuals, families, and couples. It has been found to be highly or moderately effective in the treatment of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, general stress, anger issues, panic disorders, agoraphobia, social phobia, eating disorders, marital difficulties, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and childhood anxiety and depressive disorders. CBT may also be effective as an intervention for chronic pain conditions and associated distress.

What to Expect

In CBT you will first learn to identify painful and upsetting thoughts you have about current problems and to determine whether or not these thoughts are realistic. If these thoughts are deemed unrealistic, you will learn skills that help you change your thinking patterns so they are more accurate with respect to a given situation. Once your perspective is more realistic, the therapist can help you determine an appropriate course of action. You will probably get “homework” to do between sessions. That work may include exercises that will help you learn to apply the skills and solutions you come up with in therapy to the way you think and act in your day-to-day life.

How It Works

CBT integrates behavioral theories and cognitive theories to conclude that the way people perceive a situation determines their reaction more than the actual reality of the situation does. When a person is distressed or discouraged, his or her view of an experience may not be realistic. Changing the way clients think and see the world can change their responses to circumstances. CBT is rooted in the present, so the therapist will initially ask clients what is going on in their mind at that moment, so as to identify distressing thoughts and feelings. The therapist will then explore whether or not these thoughts and feelings are productive or even valid. The goal of CBT is to get clients actively involved in their own treatment plan so they understand that the way to improve their lives is to adjust their thinking and their approach to everyday situations.

What to Look for in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

Look for a licensed mental health professional with specialized training and experience in cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition to these credentials, it is important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.

Sources

  • Beck Institute of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Accessed Feb 3, 2017.

  • Hupp SDA, Reitman D, Jewell JD. Cognitive-Behavioral Theory. Handbook of Clinical Psychology. Vol. 2. Children and Adolescents. 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM, Beck AT. The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Clinical Psychology Review. January 2006;26(1):17-31. [Abstract]

  • Hofmann SG, Asnaani A, Vonk IJJ, Sawyer AT, Fang A. The efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research. October 2012;36(5):427-440.

  • Wood J, Piacentini JC, Southam-Gerow M, Chu BC, Sigman M. Family cognitive behavioral therapy for child anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. March 2006;45(3):314-321.

  • Wood J, Piacentini JC, Southam-Gerow M, Chu BC, Sigman M. Family cognitive behavioral therapy for child anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. March 2006;45(3):314-321.