June 14, 2020

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Written by Rachel Eddins

In the past century, some incredible advances have been made within the realm of mental health care. This explosion of knowledge has resulted in countless useful discoveries about psychology and the human mind. Subsequently, new healing approaches are constantly being developed.

One of the most successful and enduring mental health treatments for almost six decades has been cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). There is mainstream awareness of CBT but, as with many scientific issues, there is not always mainstream accuracy. What is cognitive behavioral therapy? We’ll explore the basics here.

What is CBT?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that is categorized as “solutions-oriented.” Its focus is to modify any dysfunctional:

  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Behaviors

As mentioned, CBT has been in use for quite a while. During this time, it has been deemed appropriate for people of all ages — from children to adolescents to adults. Some of the conditions for which CBT is effective include:

Learn more about symptoms and cognitive behavioral treatments here.

The Principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The foundation of CBT is the belief that many (if not most) psychological problems are rooted in a blend of unhelpful ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. However, cognitive behavioral therapy posits that anyone struggling with such problems can unlearn these unhelpful patterns.

You can develop new ways to cope with problems, reduce related symptoms, and live more productive lives.

CBT treatment plans most commonly center around the work need to change a client’s thinking patterns. The way we think affects the way we feel, which can impact our behavior. Such strategies may be:

  • Learning more about how motivation and behavior works for you and those in your life
  • Identifying the distortions in your thought habits and patterns
  • Recognizing how these distortions create problems — specifically, the problems for which you have begun therapy
  • Cultivating the skills you require to problem-solve more effectively in challenging situations
  • Developing self-confidence in your ability to achieve all of the above (and more)

CBT Emphasizes Changing Behavior

As you can probably see, CBT emphasizes the importance of changing behavioral patterns. Whether it’s 5 or 20 sessions, you will:

  • Utilize role-playing tactics with your counselor to prepare yourself for the type of interactions you deem troublesome
  • Commit to no longer avoid fears and doubts; instead, you discover powerful ways to face them
  • Establish the ability to calm yourself in body and mind.

When Should I Choose Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT Treatment is appropriate when you have a specific change or goal you’d like to achieve.

Changes or goals might involve:

  • A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
  • A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
  • A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
  • A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like lessening back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.

Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life, not on personality traits. Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists treat individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. Replacing ways of living that do not work well with ways of living that work, and giving people more control over their lives, are common goals of behavior and cognitive behavior therapy.

What Advancements Have Been Made With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy has both the longevity and the results to have endured and evolved. As a result, many variations now exist — too many to list! Your therapist may incorporate some of these approaches in your treatment plan. Here’s a sampling:

Is CBT Evidence-Based?

Cognitive behavioral therapy may appear to be a complex concept and it is the result of complex research and analysis. However, it remains accessible to all of us. Numerous studies have demonstrated that cognitive-behavioral therapy is as effective as medication for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, obsessions and other fears. Using skills learned in CBT therapy, clients are able to maintain improvement after therapy has been completed.

The freedom and confidence you long for are entirely possible. Consider the possibilities of CBT.

Any therapeutic approach can sound logical — or perhaps abstract — in its basic description. When it comes to effective counseling, however, the proof lies in the practice and the ensuing results. There are many good reasons why CBT continues to thrive after nearly 60 years. Almost all of those reasons center around its stellar track record. CBT is a highly effective treatment method for multiple areas of concern.

How Does CBT Treatment Work?

For many or most people, the idea of therapy is to dig into one’s past to find clues for understanding today’s issues. This is a reasonable assumption since a lot of different therapy approaches do precisely that. Not CBT though. In cognitive behavioral therapy treatment, the focus is aimed squarely on present beliefs and thoughts.

Counselor and client work closely together to understand current situations. These situations are identified. From there, the client’s unhelpful perception of this now-obvious situation is then challenged and addressed. Think of it like a pair of glasses of which the prescription does not match your needs. Your viewpoint is shaped by unhelpful lenses. To play out the metaphor, CBT helps you recognize not only the poor fit but also how it distorts reality. After cognitive behavioral therapy treatment, you’ll have the skills to see situations more clearly — with or without your metaphorical glasses!

What Strategies are Used to Help Reshape Thought Patterns?

Your negative thought patterns are called cognitive distortions. Some examples are catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, black-and-white thinking, and personalizing. Regardless of which patterns you’ve internalized, they can lead to self-sabotaging, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, and more.

CBT reshapes those cognitive distortions in numerous ways. Two common strategies are:

  • Question your assumptions. It’s difficult to maintain healthy beliefs if they are founded on shaky assumptions. CBT teaches you to test your beliefs, seek evidence, weight fact vs. emotion, and seek alternative interpretations.
  • Self-monitor. We can go through our days without ever examining the thoughts that shape our mood and behavior. As the word implies, self-monitoring teaches you to pre-empt negative thoughts and assumptions before they can take hold.

What are Characteristics of Negative Thoughts in CBT?

  1.  Automatic: they just pop into your head without any effort on your part.
  2. Distorted: they do not fill all the facts.
  3. Unhelpful: they keep you depressed, make it difficult to change, and stop you from getting what you want out of life.
  4. Plausible: you. accept them as facts, and it does not occur to you to question them.
  5. Involuntary: you do not choose to have them, and they can be very difficult to switch off.

How Do Negative Thoughts Lead to Unhelpful Behaviors?

In CBT therapy, your thoughts contribute your mood and behaviors. Here’s an example of how the cycle works with depression. When you are depressed, your thoughts tend to be more negative. Negative thoughts usually are “distorted” or not factual, which contributes to negative feelings and unhelpful behaviors.

  1. You have self-defeating thoughts: “Things are too difficult. There’s no point in doing anything.”
  2. Negative thoughts lead to self-defeating emotions: You feel tired, bored, discouraged, guilty, helpless and overwhelmed.
  3. Difficult emotions lead to self-defeating actions: You stick to bed or avoid people, work or enjoyable activities.
  4. You experience consequences of your behavior: You feel isolated from friends; feel inadequate; decrease productivity and sink deeper into an unmotivated state.

Here is an example of how self-critical thoughts lead to feelings of guilt and procrastination: 

  1. Thoughts: “I shouldn’t be watching TV. I’m lazy and no good.”
  2. Emotions: guilt, anxiety, self-loathing.
  3. Behaviors: procrastination, binge eating.

What Strategies Help Reshape Behavioral Patterns?

Your behavioral patterns intertwine with your cognitive distortions until it feels impossible to discern cause and effect. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy treatment addresses both. Also, rather than spending lots of time trying to identify the past events that created the tangle, your CBT therapist will set you off on a path reshaping thoughts and actions at the same time.

Let’s say you are struggling with catastrophic thinking. CBT would have you do a behavioral exercise like this:

  • Before engaging in an activity that provokes low-level anxiety, you may be asked to make a prediction. (“What do you think will happen if you attempt this action?”) You may describe it in detail or offer ranges of reaction from minor stress to the worst-case scenario.
  • You might then perform the task.
  • Then, you may meet with your therapist and talk about what happened and if any part of your prediction came true.

As time passes, you might discover that your assumptions are not accurate. You’ll be able to reshape your behavior patterns and practice this exercise on activities of increasing anxiety.

What are Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Sessions Like?

In CBT therapy, you will identify specific goals at the beginning of therapy and you can modify those goals as you continue. You and your therapist will set an agenda for each meeting. You might discuss one or two current problems, what you’ve accomplished in the session and at home, and goals for the next week. The goal of CBT is to solve problems.

What you learn in therapy is what you practice outside of therapy of your own. Research shows that working on skills outside of session helps you get better faster and stay better longer. 

How Long is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Because it can be effective in a relatively short period of time, CBT is popular with clients, practitioners, and even insurance companies. There may no set time frame but most typically, CBT runs at least 5 sessions and up to 20. Whether your therapy sessions are in-person or online/telephone, CBT has proven to be equally effective.

How is a CBT Therapist Important?

During cognitive behavioral therapy treatment, your therapist is not an all-knowing oracle. Rather, you form a connection together for the sake of problem-solving. It’s collaborative and feels like teamwork. Moreover, this type of relationship is conducive to you finishing the treatment with the skills you need.

Get Started Now!

Finally, consider the possibilities of CBT. Free your mind one thought at a time. Enjoy fully whatever comes next.

Schedule a free consultation with our practice manager to find out how cognitive behavioral therapy treatment can help you. Call us in Houston today at 832-559-2622 or click here to schedule an appointment online.

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