Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used types of therapy. It can be effective for a wide variety of psychiatric and psychosocial issues. Understanding how CBT works can connect people with a therapist who can help with their mental health issue.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
CBT is based on the idea that learned beliefs and behavior patterns can contribute to unhelpful thoughts and actions. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help patients recognize these patterns, question long-held beliefs, and develop more accurate, helpful beliefs about themselves and the world.
Who developed cognitive behavioral therapy?
The original principles of CBT were developed by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist who broke from the psychoanalytic tradition to develop new techniques to treat depression and anxiety. Today, the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy trains psychotherapists interested in learning his techniques.
How does cognitive behavioral therapy work?
The cognitive component of CBT involves the patient’s beliefs about themselves and others. As part of treatment, a therapist might discuss and gently challenge unhelpful beliefs. The behavioral component of cognitive behavioral therapy involves developing and practicing the skills to lessen unhelpful beliefs.
Types of cognitive behavioral therapy
There are many variations on CBT. Here are the most common:
Acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) teaches patients to accept negative emotions and experiences rather than try to deny or avoid them. It involves aligning actions with values, rather than immediately reacting to negative emotions.
ACT is hands-on and action-oriented. ACT usually involves learning specific skills, such as cognitive defusion, the ability to critically observe your thoughts. The thought that “other people always look down on me” might be rephrased as “I’m having a thought that other people look down on me, which may or may not be true.”
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is helpful for people who experience deep and intense emotions and have trouble controlling their reactions to these emotions. Clients in DBT learn skills to better tolerate distress, regulate their emotions, and reduce unproductive conflict with other people
Rational emotive behavior therapy
Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) helps change the way you think in response to adverse events in your life. An REBT therapist can help you uncouple adverse events from the negative thoughts that can follow. For example, if you get a low score on a test and immediately think “I’m going to fail my class because I’m stupid.”
Exposure and response prevention
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is most often used for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An ERP therapist helps patients test their anxieties in real-world situations (exposure) without using their typical rituals (response prevention).
What issues can cognitive behavioral therapy treat?
CBT is used to treat a variety of mental health concerns, including:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders and phobias
- OCD and hoarding
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
CBT can also help address psychosocial issues, like family conflict, relationship problems, and job difficulties. It can also be used to treat alcohol and substance-use disorders.
Is cognitive behavioral therapy effective?
Across hundreds of studies, CBT has been shown to be effective for a wide variety of psychiatric and psychosocial issues (Hofmann et al., 2012). Before starting therapy, it’s a good idea to talk with your therapist about whether CBT can help with your specific concerns and which type would be most effective.
Finding a therapist who specializes in CBT
If you’re looking for a CBT specialist, a therapist’s online profile should indicate whether they are trained in CBT. It’s always okay to ask them for more details about their training and patient experience.
- Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1