What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that is well known for its ability to influence our thought processes and lead to more healthy ways of relating to the world and others. Not just for people who suffer from mental illnesses, CBT can be helpful to anyone who is suffering from difficulty with relating to themselves, their loved ones, and their environment. In today’s wellness post, we discuss how CBT works, the principles behind this therapeutic approach and what to do to make sure you get the best out of CBT sessions. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a common type of talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. In CBT, you work with a mental health professional such as a counselor, psychotherapist or therapist in a structured way for a particular number of sessions. The goal of CBT is to help you become aware of distorted thinking so you can respond more effectively to challenging situations. 

CBT is often used to help treat mental health disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an eating disorder. That said, CBT is not just for people suffering from mental illness and can be an effective tool in anyone’s arsenal to help them navigate stressful life situations. 

How does CBT work? 

CBT is based on the following 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.

CBT is focused on changing thinking patterns by: 

  • Learning to recognize one's distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.
  • Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
  • Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one's own abilities.

CBT makes efforts to change behavioral patterns by: 

  • Facing one's fears instead of avoiding them.
  • Using role playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others.
  • Learning to calm one's mind and relax one's body.

CBT takes the following steps to evaluate and move forward: 

  • Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life. 
  • Become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these problems. 
  • Identify negative or inaccurate thinking. 
  • Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking. 

Length of therapy depends on:

  • Type of disorder or situation
  • Severity of your symptoms
  • How long you've had your symptoms or have been dealing with your situation
  • How quickly you make progress
  • How much stress you're experiencing
  • How much support you receive from family members and other people

When is CBT most helpful?

CBT is effective for the following situations: 

  • Manage symptoms of mental illness
  • Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Treat a mental illness when medications aren't a good option
  • Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations
  • Identify ways to manage emotions
  • Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate
  • Cope with grief or loss
  • Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
  • Cope with a medical illness
  • Manage chronic physical symptoms

CBT is effective for the following mental health disorders: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual disorders

How can I succeed with CBT?

While CBT isn’t necessarily the best therapeutic approach to everyone, there are certain steps you can take to make sure you are getting as much out of your therapy as possible. 

  • Approach therapy as a partnership. This means that you and the therapist are working as a team and are on the same side. Be as open and honest as your therapist as you can so they can help you to the best of their abilities. Make sure you both agree on your goals so you can honestly assess your progress over time.  

  • Be open and honest. This is so critical it bears repeating. Therapy requires honesty in order to be truly effective. If you hide the things that cause you pain and suffering, you won’t be able to address the way you approach them, putting all your therapy at risk of being in vain. You can let your therapist know that there’s some topics you’re scared to talk about so they can prepare you for when you do finally reach those topics in discussion. 

  • Stick to your treatment plan. Try to make the most of your sessions by planning out what you want to say in advance. Don’t skip sessions, even if you’re dreading them because you don’t want to roil up your emotional state. By staying consistent, you’re doing yourself a favor. 

  • Don't expect instant results. You may start feeling worse before you feel better as you uncover distortions in your thinking. Don’t blame yourself and keep moving forward. 


  • Do your homework between sessions. CBT is about helping you to become your own therapist, equipping you with the tools you need to evaluate and maneuver difficult and stressful situations. Part of this involves doing the homework the therapist gives you in between sessions, which is meant to help you apply what you’ve learned. Homework can involve journaling, talking to a friend, or reading. 

  • If therapy isn't helping, talk to your therapist. If you’re afraid you’re not benefitting from CBT, that doesn’t mean you can’t still work with your therapist. You may simply benefit from another therapeutic practice. Work together with your therapist to figure out how to proceed.  

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