If your ideas about therapy come from movies and TV shows, you probably expect that it involves lying on a couch and talking to a therapist about your childhood. While therapy can look like that, there are a number of types of therapy and each involves different strategies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (often known as CBT) is one of the most effective forms of therapy because rather than simply focusing on why you’re feeling the way you feel, CBT teaches you how to identify and change the thought patterns that are having a negative impact on your life.
Conditions Treated By Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is an evidence-based treatment for a wide range of conditions, including:
- Substance use disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Personality disorders
- Specific phobias
In addition, CBT can help people cope with difficult life events, low self-esteem, relationship issues, and stress.
What Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Looks Like
Many patients find that CBT is helpful because it encourages a proactive approach that gives them agency in controlling their thought patterns; this can be empowering for patients who struggle with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental illnesses. Techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy include:
Identifying Negative Thoughts
This is the first step in CBT. A patient must reflect upon the thought patterns and feelings that are causing difficulties in their life. For example, someone with anxiety in social settings may find that their anxiety isn’t rooted in a fear of meeting new people, but in feelings of inadequacy.
Finding New Coping Skills
Once negative thought patterns have been identified, it’s time to let go of the maladaptive behaviors you used to cope with these feelings in the past. You and your therapist will discuss healthier coping mechanisms; you may come up with ideas yourself, or your therapist may make suggestions that you can either accept or reject. This step of the process is tailored to your unique needs.
Another aspect of CBT that is highly personalized is the setting of treatment goals. You’ll reflect upon what you’re seeking from therapy and what changes you’d like to make to improve your mental health, relationships, family life, work life, etc.
Learning Problem Solving Skills
As you progress through CBT, you’ll begin to put its tools to use on your own in a variety of situations. This is the ultimate goal of CBT—to teach patients the skills they need to manage stressors and negative thoughts moving forward. The problem solving skills you learn in cognitive behavioral therapy help you tackle issues in a logical, methodical, and organized way, allowing you to feel in control of the situation.
You’ll be asked to journal about your feelings, behaviors, symptoms, and experiences as part of the cognitive behavioral therapy process. During your therapy sessions, you will share your journal entries with your therapist, as this gives them the information they need to provide effective treatment.
Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Within the category of cognitive behavioral therapy, there are a number of subcategories. The most common include:
- Cognitive therapy, which seeks to identify and change unhealthy thought patterns, behaviors, and feelings.
- Dialectical behavior therapy, which focuses on emotional regulation and mindfulness in addition to addressing thoughts and behaviors.
- Multimodal therapy addresses behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and biological or drug considerations.
- Rational emotive behavior therapy identifies and challenges irrational beliefs in order to change unhealthy thought patterns.