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  • You may have heard the term mentioned in the context of ways to address behavioral health issues. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known as CBT) is a form of talk therapy that has been found to be effective for multiple mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and eating disorders. Considered a ‘problem-solving strategy’, CBT seeks to change dysfunctional (and often unhelpful) thoughts and behaviors by questioning, identifying and then reframing them. In this article, we look into how and why CBT works.

    How does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy work?

    CBT was built on the idea that our thoughts and perceptions influence our behavior. Researchers have found that when we feel distressed, our thoughts and feelings may distort our perception of reality - so CBT aims to identify and name those thoughts, to assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and then if they are not, to come up with individualized strategies to challenge and overcome them.

    CBT was founded by psychiatrist Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s who wanted to offer his patients a treatment option to the prevailing Freudian psychoanalysis style of the time which dealt primarily with patients' past (childhood) experiences. Beck wanted to develop a type of therapy that was shorter-term and goal-oriented, but also scientifically-validated. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on current problems and helping patients find ways to help themselves. This does not mean that it completely ignores the influence of the past, but it deals primarily with identifying and changing distressing thought and behavior patterns of the present. 

    For example, CBT may have patients address questions like: What are you thinking right now? What were you thinking when you began to feel anxious? Can we find harmful patterns that emerge when you begin to feel anxious? The goal is to understand what happens in our minds when we are distressed and to change how we respond. In this way, we develop a greater sense of confidence in our own abilities to deal with challenging thoughts and feelings.

    What does CBT look like in practice?

    Research has shown that CBT is appropriate for all ages, including children, adolescents, and adults. It can be effective in a relatively brief period of time, generally, 5 to 20 sessions, though there is no set time frame. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to in-person therapy sessions.

    In practice, therapists and patients collaborate together to develop an understanding of the problem and to come up with a treatment strategy. Through exercises in-session as well as outside homework exercises, patients learn how to develop coping skills to change their own thinking, problematic emotions, and behavior. Therapy sessions may involve role-playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others, as well as learning ways to calm one’s mind and body in times of stress. 

    Multiple research studies confirm the benefits of CBT

    Research has shown that CBT can address conditions such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and others. Studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications.

    If you are interested in exploring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, consider contacting a qualified mental health professional

    If you’re a client, request an appointment online or call our live support for assistance in scheduling care today. Our mental health professionals understand how to recognize and treat multiple disorders like anxiety and depression, and many are certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you’re a behavioral health provider looking to join our network, see all the benefits and learn how to apply here.

    American Psychological Association
    National Institutes of Health (NIH)
    Journal, Frontiers in Psychology


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