What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on looking at relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The thought is, by exploring patterns one’s of thinking and the beliefs that drive those patterns of thinking, people can change their patterns of thinking and behaving to improve how they feel.
For example, a person with depression may have the belief, “I’m not good enough.” A person with anxiety may have the belief, “I’m in danger.” When we have these beliefs, we feel like they are truth, and may not even be aware that we believe this, yet it drives our thoughts and feelings. With help from your CBT therapist, you can start to challenge these beliefs. Your therapist will help you to do this by looking at these negative beliefs as hypotheses instead of facts. Then you and your therapist will examine the evidence or run “experiments” in therapy to test if these beliefs are true or if they are “irrational beliefs.” If they are irrational, you’ll learn to spot these when you have them and challenge them.
The other part of CBT focuses on the behavioral patterns that are adding to your problem. The therapist will help the client to notice behavioral patterns that contribute to his or her symptoms and the client will begin to learn and practice new skills to use instead. The process is usually gradual, and starts with the least threatening first, so that the client can get practice with their new skills. For example, a person with social anxiety would learn and practice new coping skills with the therapist, then he or she might begin with imagining herself in an anxiety-provoking situation. The client then gradually works up to actually practicing his or her skills in these anxiety-provoking situations. By working towards the goal in smaller steps, the process is less daunting and the client experiences small successes along the way.
When using CBT, the therapist and client actively work together to help the client reduce their symptoms and improve how they are feeling. This is often referred to as a collaborative relationship, because both the therapist and the client are actively involved and working together is important.
When is CBT used?
CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, depression, phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, sleep disorders, and personality disorders.
CBT is one of the most widely researched therapy types. CBT has been researched in several scientific studies and has been shown to be as useful as medications for depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder for some clients. CBT has also been shown in research to prevent relapse better than medications for many patients.
Is CBT right for you?
If you want your therapist to be problem-focused, goal-directed, and offering a lot of direction in addressing your symptoms, then CBT may be right for you. CBT is usually short-term and focused on helping clients with a specific problem. CBT is an active intervention, so your therapist will be asking you to do homework outside of sessions. Therapists using CBT find it important that clients practice what they’ve learned between sessions, so that they can get relief from symptoms sooner. The other thought behind homework is that, the better you get at practicing these new skills while in therapy, the better you’ll be able to manage future problems on your own without or with only minimal therapy. If you are looking for a shorter-term therapy focused on a specific goal and you are motivated to be active in your therapy, then CBT may be right for you.