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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy”). Developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck, CBT is a goal-oriented type of therapy. Ultimately CBT is designed to help patients develop healthier thinking patterns and coping skills.
During your first session, your therapist will help you determine what issues you’d like to work on during your sessions. From there, your CBT therapist will help you identify negative behaviors and thought patterns through sessions and homework assignments. Homework can include reading and activities designed to help you practice what you’ve learned so far.
CBT is considered a short-term type of therapy, usually lasting between 5 and 20 sessions.
CBT Core Principles
According to the American Psychological Association, CBT operates on a few main principles.
CBT’s core principles include:
- Faulty thought patterns are often the basis of many psychological problems;
- Learned patterns of unconstructive behavior can contribute to some psychological issues; and
- Individuals struggling with particular mental or emotional can learn better coping and problem-solving skills to relieve symptoms and have more enjoyable lives.
How CBT Differs from Other Types of Therapy
As a form of psychotherapy, CBT focuses on providing patients with a compassionate, supportive relationship between them and the therapist. Your therapist will offer you a space to express feelings and identify negative thoughts and habits, then help you to reframe your thinking to more positive ideas and actions.
CBT focuses on specific goals based on the particular issues you’re facing. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, CBT doesn’t focus on past issues and instead concentrates on current struggles and mental processes that are causing you trouble.
Additionally, CBT is different from other types of therapy because it theorizes that a person’s perception of the world and themselves can directly impact their overall well-being. By shifting these perceptions, CBT helps patients improve how they cope with stress and other issues in their daily lives.
Other types of psychotherapy include:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Interpersonal Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Supportive Therapy
How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works
CBT works by helping patients to identify negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions and shifting them into better, healthier habits and routines. CBT provides patients with an empathetic relationship with their therapist that gives them an opportunity to self-examine and creates goals around shifting their flawed perspectives.
It’s important to note that CBT is a process, and sessions will build upon one another as you progress. Typically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy lasts for about 5 to 20 sessions overall.
Common CBT Techniques
CBT uses a few different therapeutic approaches to treat a variety of issues.
Cognitive distortion describes unhealthy thought patterns or negative biases that an individual may maintain. These cognitive distortions often lead to unhealthy emotional or behavioral responses.
There are multiple recognized cognitive distortions, but some of the most common are:
- Catastrophizing: Thinking only of the worst possible outcome of a scenario
- Black-and-white thinking: An inability to see things outside of “very good” or “horrible”
- Jumping to conclusions: Forming opinions based upon limited knowledge
- Personalization: Centering yourself or thinking something is about you (often in the negative) when no evidence suggests such
- “Should” statements: Having an internal list of ways you think people (and yourself) should and should not behave
- Labeling: Assigning labels to others or self, such as considering oneself “lazy” for taking a day for what is actually much-needed rest
- Disregarding the positive: Manifests as focusing on one negative thing, despite a series of positive things before and after
Cognitive distortions can become a focal point for some individuals, leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms like obsession, depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse.
What CBT Can Help With
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a beneficial treatment for many different issues. CBT is often considered the gold standard in psychotherapy, from helping patients with mental health conditions to dealing with everyday challenges.
Notably, CBT is considered an effective treatment for both adults and adolescents.
CBT and Substance Use Disorder
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be especially helpful in treating addiction.
Often individuals with substance use disorder develop their addiction due to poor coping skills in the face of trauma and other difficulties. CBT helps people address negative thought patterns and develop improved coping skills, and by doing so, CBT gives people new tools to help them remain sober during and after addiction treatment.
In addition, CBT helps recovering addicts discover new ways to manage their emotions. Rather than turning to drugs or alcohol, the tools learned in CBT can provide you with healthier outlets to deal with negative emotions.
Therapy sessions will focus on examining past drug use and discussing consequences of substance abuse, self-exploration to discover and recognize cravings, and identifying potential triggers to avoid those situations in the future.
CBT sessions can also help recovering addicts adjust to their new alcohol and/or drug-free lifestyle.
CBT and Mental Illness
CBT is also an effective treatment option for treating many mental health conditions. CBT doesn’t necessarily cure mental illness, but it provides better strategies for individuals to cope with their mental illness and the symptoms that come with it.
CBT is especially effective in treating individuals with the following mental health issues:
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders (i.e., bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Treating illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is most successful when combined with prescription medication.
Things to Look For in a CBT Therapist
- Are they an active listener? A good therapist will indicate that they are actively participating in your conversation. Additionally, they should never be judgemental towards you during your sessions.
- Are they state certified? Many different mental healthcare professionals can work to become CBT therapists, including psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers, and more. Check to ensure they have the appropriate licensing and education to provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
- What is the cost? Different therapists will work with your insurance provider to offer a lower out-of-pocket rate, so check with your insurance company to see if your potential therapist is in-network.
Other Issues CBT Can Address
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also helpful in helping individuals with other challenges besides mental illness and addiction. CBT can help patients work through the negative impact of some of these disorders.
For example, CBT can help individuals with chronic pain from fibromyalgia respond differently and better cope with their physical discomfort.
CBT can be beneficial in treating:
- Divorce or relationship issues
- Serious illness
- Chronic pain
- Stress from work
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
Find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Near You
Does it sound like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is suitable for you or your loved one? Take a look at the SAMHSA program locator to discover programs near you.