Cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is a highly effective form of psychotherapyin which negative patterns of thought are recognized, confronted, and managed to change unhelpful behavior patterns into positive ones.
Considered a short-term therapy with long-term success, CBT is frequently used to address mood disorders and mental health conditions such as PTSD, stress, depression, anxiety disorders, and even chronic pain.
Read on to learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy, what it is, the techniques used, and what to expect in a CBT session.
What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Do?
The main goal of CBT is to learn about the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Whereas other forms of therapy might focus on the past, CBT focuses on how your current thoughts are influencing your feelings and actions in the here and now.
Once these thought patterns are recognized, clients can learn new skills to turn negative behavior patterns into positive ones and enjoy a happier life. More simply put, CBT teaches people to think more positively, feel more positive, and behave more positively.
What Are the Core Principles of CBT?
CBT is largely founded on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Once the connection is recognized, several techniques are applied to help people better understand that their thoughts directly influence their self-worth, happiness, confidence, and fears, or lack thereof.
According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is based on the following core principles:
“Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.”
If someone believes, for example, that a confrontational relationship with their teenager is negatively impacting their home life, CBT can teach them to improve the thought process surrounding the relationship and thereby improve emotions, behavior, and communication within the relationship.
Are You In a Negative Cycle of Thoughts & Behaviors?
If you are unsure whether you are stuck in a negative cycle of thoughts and behaviors, below is a typical process of how negative cycles of thoughts and behavior can affect everyday people.
- Negative thoughts running through the mind make you feel emotionally distressed
- Emotional stress, coupled with repetitive & ongoing negative beliefs on the subject, leads to harmful actions or negative behavior toward yourself and/or others
- The negative thought process surrounding the subject, person, or situation continues and so does the negative behavior
- Eventually, negative actions become a learned behavioral pattern that is repeated over and over again when it comes to the related situation, subject, or person.
If nothing is done about the harmful thought cycle, your behavior will continue to be influenced by your negative thoughts and emotions. However, by understanding these behavioral patterns, and the thoughts behind them, you can learn to change them and react more positively & confidently.
What To Expect at A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session
It can admittedly be overwhelming to attend therapy and share your inner feelings with a stranger but bear in mind that therapists exist to provide a safe space for you to discuss your feelings and they adhere to strict policies and confidentiality agreements for the betterment of their client's health.
So it is essentially in your own best interest to relax, speak your truth, and be open to the help they can provide.
Your first CBT session will typically involve a discussion with your therapist about your emotional distress and specific difficulties as well as scheduling and what you would like to achieve.
After your first meeting, your CBT sessions will become more structured and include techniques for identifying your personal beliefs and examining your thought process to help you build confidence and coping skills for a happier life.
Not all techniques are necessary for every client, but some of the most popular techniques used during CBT sessions include:
- Learning to acknowledge and accept your self-worth
- Facing fears as opposed to avoiding them
- Learning to set achievable goals
- Discussing how your thoughts and feelings influence your actions
- Being exposed to situations you find difficult and acquiring skills to overcome them
- Practicing how to restructure negativity into positivity
- Comprehending that negative thinking can make problems seem worse than they are
- Facing fears and challenges with calming practices & breathing techniques
- Participating in role-play to overcome situations you find challenging
Each technique is aimed at retraining the mind to swap criticizing, fearful, or anxious thoughts with hopeful, encouraging, and inspiring ones.
In addition to your therapy sessions, cognitive behavioral therapists normally give clients some homework like daily journaling about their beliefs and feelings, practicing replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, and applying learned coping skills to everyday situations.
Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
As one of the most studied therapy techniques, CBT has been proven to be confoundingly effective in changing negative behavior patterns. In fact, most experts describe it as the “gold standard” of short-term therapy for conditions like depression, PTSD, brain function, and anxiety.
Research also shows that mental health conditions are less likely to re-occur for those who engage in CBT versus those who take medication only.
What Conditions Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help?
In addition to a range of mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, bipolar disorder, stress, and schizophrenia, CBT is also helpful for people going through relationship problems, divorce, grief, or low self-confidence, as well as those suffering from substance abuse, eating disorders, and chronic pain.
Furthermore, CBT has been recognized as a highly successful treatment for an anxiety-based female condition known as vaginismus, or fear of vaginal penetration, when used in conjunction with vaginal dilation therapy.
What Are The Advantages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
As with any type of therapy, the advantages of CBT will vary from person to person as well as the condition they are dealing with. Bearing in mind, however, that each type of therapy aims to provide clients with a set of coping skills that can be used in real life, the benefits of CBT are not only cognitively advantageous but financially, and socially too.
Read on, to understand how.
Feedback from clients suggests that playing an active role in their own healing process – by gradually understanding and altering their thoughts, emotions, and behavior – has an empowering effect on the mind with long-lasting and life-improving effects.
A course of cognitive behavioral therapy is usually much shorter than other types of therapy, typically ranging from five to twenty sessions in total.
Because clients rarely require more than twenty sessions, the cost of CBT is far less expensive than other forms of therapy that would typically last much longer. Many cognitive behavioral therapists also provide group session options, which lowers the cost even more.
Even though CBT normally only takes five to twenty sessions to achieve results, the solutions are typically long-lasting and due to the improved cognitive understanding, relapses are rare.
Coping skills, problem-solving skills, breathing techniques, and confidence boosters learned during CBT often reach far beyond healing from a particular condition. In fact, most clients report that their newly learned skills are applied to everyday life, and passed on to family members, friends, and colleagues too.
If you’re seeking solutions or coping skills for current mental health issues, chronic pain, eating disorders, or vaginismus, cognitive behavioral therapy might be right for you.
With a focus on resolving present-day problems as opposed to those from the past, CBT is a short-term therapy option that provides long-term solutions and useful techniques to alter negative behavioral patterns.
Contact your healthcare practitioner for more information about cognitive behavioral therapists in your area, and whether this short-term therapy is right for you.
American Psychological Association – What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
National Library Of Medicine -Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5797481/
Healthline – Depression - https://www.healthline.com/health/depression
Mayo Clinic – Anxiety Disorders - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
WebMD – Chronic Pain Syndrome - https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/chronic-pain-syndrome-overview
Intimate Rose – Vaginismus: Treatment, Therapy, Exercises & More - https://www.intimaterose.com/blogs/pelvic-pain/vaginismus-treatment
American Psychological Association- Behavioral Interventions in Cognitive Behavior Therapy - https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/Behavioral-Interventions-in-Cognitive-Behavior-Therapy-Chapter-1-Sample.pdf
National Library of Medicine - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety and Related Disorders: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials -