Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term form of psychotherapy that addresses present issues, focusing on the thoughts, feelings and actions of an individual. The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior. CBT is a commonly used type of psychotherapy and is an evidenced based practice (EBP). An EBP is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, preferences, and culture. This allows for CBT therapy so be both effective and accessible. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat various disorders and is appropriate for children, adolescents, adults, individuals, groups, families, and couples.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Defined

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on exploring relationships among a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT actively reveals unhealthy patterns of thinking, beliefs, or behavior and how these patterns are negatively impacting an individual’s daily life. Through this work, individuals can begin to contract healthy ways of thinking, consequently contracting healthier behaviors and beliefs. CBT is highly goal-oriented and focused, and the client and therapist work together as collaborators toward the mutually established goals. CBT is commonly a very structured type of therapy, with a specific number of intended sessions, depending on what is being treated. CBT therapy usually follows a manual that is to be followed each session, but again this depends on what is being treated and if the mental health professional chooses to utilize a manual. While the length of CBT generally ranges from 5 to 20 sessions, it all depends on how quickly progress is made, the severity of symptoms, support systems in place, etc.

Individuals can possibly be assigned “homework” to do between sessions. That work may include exercises that will help individuals learn to apply the skills and solutions that are decided in therapy– to the way an individual thinks and acts in their day-to-day lives. CBT also utilizes role-playing activities, frequent feedback, gradual exposure to things that cause fear, etc. CBT can be used alone or in combination with other therapies like psychodynamic therapy, as well as with combinations of medications. Each type of cognitive-behavioral therapy offers its own unique approach, each centers on addressing the underlying thought patterns that contribute to psychological distress. For example, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a type of CBT that is centered on identifying and altering irrational beliefs. The process of REBT involves identifying the underlying irrational beliefs, actively challenging these beliefs, and finally learning to recognize and change these thought patterns.

CBT is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may assist individuals with:

  • Managing symptoms of mental illness
  • Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Identify ways to manage emotions
  • Treat a mental illness when medications aren’t a good option
  • Manage chronic physical symptoms
  • Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations
  • Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate
  • Cope with grief or loss
  • Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
  • Cope with a medical illness

What CBT is Used for:

There are various mental health disorders that mental health professionals use CBT to treat. Some mental health disorders that may improve with CBT include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual disorders

Choosing a Type of Therapy:

No matter what type of therapy a therapist uses it is crucial to determine what fits an individual’s personality and their presenting symptoms. It is also important to ensure that the therapist utilizing CBT is qualified. Qualification should include their background, education, certification, licensing, and their areas of expertise. Change does not happen overnight and is not one sided. An individual must put the work in with their therapist in order to make changes that they are seeking. The therapist’s job is not to “fix” the individual or make unpleasant situations go away. CBT provides an individual with the tools to cope with difficult situations in a healthy way and improve quality of life.


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