Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and effective forms of psychotherapy. CBT aims to help people identify and change unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. In this article, we’ll discuss what CBT is, who it’s for, and how it works!
What is it CBT?
CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s used to treat people with anxiety, stress, depression, and phobias. It aims to help you change your thoughts and actions by identifying your thoughts and ideas (cognitions) that lead to negative feelings, behaviors, or moods. The goal of CBT is not just symptom relief but also to teach you strategies that will improve daily life so that you can continue managing symptoms long-term. There are several different treatment approaches used in CBT: training in relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises), thought challenging (identifying unrealistic or irrational thoughts), restructuring negative beliefs into positive ones, improving communication skills (with yourself or others), and behavioral activation (doing things more often even if they’re uncomfortable).
How does it work?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) takes a different approach to treating mental health. While antidepressants can take a few weeks to take effect, CBT often yields results in just a couple of sessions. It’s also an ideal choice for anyone who wants or needs to get back into their normal routine right away, because there are no side effects. Plus, you won’t feel weird after your treatment—instead, you’ll leave with some new tools and new ways of looking at old issues. How does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) work? In short, by using something called cognitive restructuring. You learn new ways of thinking about things that used to stress you out—and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
For example, if you have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, CBT might teach you techniques like keeping a journal or practicing mindfulness meditation. The idea is that if you change your thought patterns, your feelings will follow suit. Some therapists use visualization techniques as well. They might ask patients to imagine themselves doing whatever they’re most afraid of doing—whether it’s giving a speech or talking to someone they’re attracted to—to help them overcome those fears.
If all goes well, these changes should stick around even when therapy ends; in fact, many people find they have better coping skills than before they started treatment! To learn more about how CBT works and whether it’s right for you, check out our guide on finding a therapist.
What does CBT help with?
CBT helps to change our behavior by changing our thought processes. With CBT we can look at a situation and understand why we’re feeling a certain way. We can then look at alternative ways of looking at things that can help us see things differently. The idea is that if we do feel differently about something then it will eventually translate into our actions being different as well.
Though CBT is a great therapeutic intervention for anxiety and depression, this is not just for those issues but for anyone who feels like they have negative thoughts in their head that are affecting their life in a negative way. For example, someone with social anxiety may have thoughts such as I don’t know what to say! I won’t be able to talk to anyone! Everyone will think I am boring! People won’t like me! Everyone else has something interesting to say but me… etc.
This can make them shy away from social situations because they are afraid of being judged negatively. If you were working with someone on CBT, you would start by helping them identify these negative thoughts and then teach them how they might be able to challenge those thoughts in order to think more positively about themselves and social situations.
The ABC method of CBT
This strategy encourages you to consider your thoughts as simply a stream of automatic thoughts, but not necessarily facts. Ask yourself, What evidence do I have that my thought is true? If there isn’t much evidence that your negative thought is true, then write down a list of alternative explanations for why you feel negatively right now.
Then ask yourself if there’s anything you can do about those negative feelings or about your upsetting situation in general. If so, what can you do about it? Are there any other options besides sitting around feeling upset or anxious? Make an action plan with concrete steps on how to change things for the better.
Other types of therapy used in conjunction with CBT
As mentioned earlier, CBT can be used in conjunction with other therapies to boost its effectiveness. It’s been shown to work well when paired with certain medications, exercise, mindfulness and relaxation techniques. A study published in The National Library of Medicine found that adding yoga to CBT helped reduce symptoms of depression just as effectively as medication. Similarly, a review found that combining antidepressants with psychotherapy improved outcomes over either alone.
How long does treatment take?
Therapists do their best to get clients to a point where they no longer feel like they need treatment, so there’s no set length of time that someone needs to be in CBT. It can take as little as five or six sessions for some people, and many therapists work with clients over an extended period of time, with check-ins on a more frequent basis (every few weeks) after that.
The good news is that therapy often becomes less intense as you approach your goals; cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify problem thoughts and behaviors early on but doesn’t require you revisit those issues again once they’re addressed. That said, some people come back for treatment if specific situations trigger their problematic behaviors.
Do I have to see a therapist all the time or can I use self-help methods instead?
One of CBT’s greatest strengths—and one that sets it apart from other forms of psychotherapy—is its emphasis on helping people overcome their problems by themselves. As you might expect, your therapist will guide you through some exercises, but much of your work will be solo.
When you learn skills to manage your anxiety or other emotional problems, for example, you’ll work out at home in between sessions. You won’t need to set aside large chunks of time (e.g., an hour a week) because CBT usually relies on relatively short sessions that can last from just a few minutes to 45 minutes or so. A typical session consists mainly of discussion and occasionally might include relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or guided imagery.
If you do decide to go with self-help, a great place to start is with books. These may be geared toward specific problems, like anxiety or insomnia, or maybe more general. Some self-help books are written for children and teens, but many are for adults only. In either case, read up on your problem as much as possible so you’ll have as much information as possible when you meet with your therapist.
In addition to self-help books, there are tons of online resources out there that provide help on your own time—you don’t even need an internet connection if you can access them offline through a smartphone app.