What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? | Overview, Techniques, & Why It Works
As one of the most common types of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you change negative thoughts and behaviors. To encourage these changes, CBT therapists use multiple techniques such as reframing (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones), relaxation techniques, and goal-setting.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). By changing how you respond to negative thoughts, CBT can help you recover from various mental illnesses.
At Ohio Recovery Center, our mental health professionals offer CBT in both individual and group settings.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
CBT is a type of therapy that can help you identify and change negative thinking and behavioral patterns. This process can improve your mood, sense of well-being, and relationship skills. It can also help you make healthier decisions when faced with difficult feelings or situations.
Who Benefits From CBT?
Developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Aaron Beck, CBT was inspired by a similar therapeutic approach called rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Beck created CBT to treat clinical depression.
However, CBT has since been proven as an effective treatment for many other mental health conditions, including:
- anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- bipolar disorder
- substance use disorder
Studies suggest CBT may also benefit people with physical health problems, such as chronic pain. It can work for adults, adolescents, and children. Also, like other types of therapy, it can be administered in-person or virtually.
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Forms Of CBT
There are multiple forms of CBT, including:
- dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which focuses on regulating your emotions, improving your relationship skills, and increasing your distress tolerance
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and feelings and acting according to your values
- exposure therapy (ET), which focuses on gradually facing your fears so you become less sensitive to them
Your CBT therapist can help you determine which form will work best for you. Some therapists also combine elements from multiple types of CBT.
How Long Do CBT Sessions Last?
In general, therapy sessions last 45 minutes to one hour. Because CBT is typically considered short-term therapy, most people receive it once a week for 5 to 20 weeks. Others receive it more often or for a longer period of time. It depends on your personal needs.
Common CBT Techniques
CBT employs a variety of techniques to promote healthy thinking patterns and positive behavior changes. These techniques include:
Early in the CBT process, your therapist will work with you to identify your short-term and long-term goals. These goals may involve your relationships, career, hobbies, or other aspects of your life.
Setting clear goals helps motivate you through the highs and lows of your mental health journey.
Reframing means replacing negative thought patterns with more positive, realistic alternatives. Negative thought patterns are also known as cognitive distortions. The most common cognitive distortions include:
- black-and-white thinking (such as the thought “I always mess up”)
- personalization (“It’s always my fault”)
- mind-reading (“They must hate me”)
- overgeneralization (“I’ll never be happy)
- fortune-telling (“I will fail as a parent”)
- comparison (“Everyone’s smarter than me”)
- catastrophizing (“If this relationship ends, I’ll be alone forever”)
- disqualifying the positive (“That compliment was probably a lie”)
During guided discovery, your therapist will help you explore your thoughts and determine whether they contain any cognitive distortions. They will try to understand your point of view while gently encouraging you to consider other perspectives.
In role-playing, your therapist acts out difficult situations with you. This process helps you practice using CBT principles in daily life. It can also improve your confidence, social skills, and problem-solving skills.
When you first start facing your negative thoughts, you might feel a great deal of anxiety. That’s why most CBT treatment plans also include coping skills to help you relax, such as:
- deep breathing
- progressive muscle relaxation
- spending time in nature
Why CBT Works
When dealing with poor mental health, you may feel like your thoughts control your actions. CBT treatment is effective because it helps you gain control of your actions by exploring and managing unhelpful thought patterns.
For example, if you have social anxiety disorder, you might struggle with the thought, “No one likes me.” This thought may cause you to avoid social situations, which often leads to loneliness, increased anxiety, and even depression. In other words, it just makes your mental health worse.
A CBT therapist can help you identify the thought “No one likes me” as unhelpful and unrealistic.
You can then learn to replace it with a more realistic thought, such as “Some people like me, and some people don’t; I can build a fulfilling life even if some people don’t like me.” When you adopt this thought, you will often find it easier to socialize and perform other healthy behaviors.
Does CBT Work For Everyone?
CBT might not work for everyone. If you try CBT and feel it’s not benefiting you, talk to your therapist.
In some cases, they may recommend that you continue with the treatment, as it can take time to see results. Other times, your therapist might recommend that you switch to another type of CBT, another type of therapy, or another mental health intervention altogether.
To learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based treatment options for mental illness, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, comprehensive care to help you or your loved one thrive.
- Harvard Health Publishing How to recognize and tame your cognitive distortions
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care Cognitive behavioral therapy
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain