What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? 

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If you’ve ever thought about receiving counseling or participating in therapy, you may wonder what options are available to you. Many different therapy styles can help you with anxiety, depression, substance use, and other mental health disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an extremely effective tool for fighting mental health disorders. So, what is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), how does it work, and how effective is it? Read on to learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT was created by Aaron Beck in the 1960s and has been studied for decades since its creation. It is a highly effective strategy to battle many mental health disorders. It may even be as effective or more effective than other types of therapy and medication, particularly for treating anxiety and depression. 

CBT can help people restructure how they think and feel about themselves and the world around them. The therapy technique focuses on a few points:

  • ​​Having problems with mental health is often centered around faulty and unhelpful ways of thinking.
  • Negative thought behavior is learned and therefore can be unlearned.
  • People with mental health problems can learn better coping strategies to deal with negative thoughts and feelings through CBT. 
  • Anxious and depressive thoughts and feelings can be restructured from a negative tone to a neutral one, allowing a person space to see the issue (or non-issue) through a new lens.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

First, we need to understand what types of negative thinking (cognitive distortions) CBT targets. Negative thinking patterns can look a little like this:

  • Black and white thinking – believing that there are only two ways to think, behave, or act, which are usually extreme opposites. For example: positive or negative; perfection or failure. This is negative thinking as it is a harsh lens to judge yourself through.
  • Catastrophizing – minor inconveniences are turned into the worst-case scenario in your mind when you think negatively. 
  • Generalization – making a rule for yourself after one negative event that you apply to future situations is an overgeneralization. 
  • Personalization – blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. This could be in the workplace, at home, or even while you’re alone.
  • Fortune telling – believing that you know something will have a negative outcome when you actually have no clue what will happen

If you recognize any of these thought patterns, you may be a prime candidate for CBT. You might want to seek out a therapist specializing in CBT. A key component of successful CBT is trust, and finding a therapist you can trust fully is extremely important. Once you find a trustworthy, empathetic therapist, your work can begin. 

First session

  • You will begin your first session by giving your therapist a background on yourself and explaining the issues you currently struggle with. 
  • Your therapist will listen intently and begin to draft a treatment plan for you based on your goals.
  • This plan can change over the course of treatment, so do not worry if it does. With clarity comes changes in goals and values. It means you’re growing.

Second session

  • Your therapist will help you identify your negative thought patterns influencing the feelings or behaviors you wish to change.
  • You may need to track your thoughts in a journal to give your therapist a better understanding. Sometimes it’s hard to think of everything distressing you in a one-hour session. The journal will help your therapist get to know you better. 
  • You will review your journal with your therapist, who will ask you questions about your thought patterns and make suggestions for coping strategies.

Subsequent sessions

You will start doing exercises with your therapist to help you confront your negative thoughts in the moment. Some examples of these exercises are:

  • Exposure therapy – you confront an uncomfortable situation or thought head-on. With the guidance of your therapist, work through them in a controlled and comfortable environment.
  • Role-playing can help you better understand situations you avoid due to anxiety or stress. Playing out scenarios in a safe space will better help you in future real-world situations. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – you may not think that anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders can physically affect the body, but they can. Chronic stress can cause muscle stiffness. You engage in progressive muscle relaxation by focusing on relaxing one group of muscles at a time until your whole body is in a relaxed state.

Maintenance visits

  • Once your treatment plan has progressed and you show signs of healthier thought patterns, you will continue working with your therapist to maintain these new habits. Generally, a CBT treatment course will last between 5 and 20 weekly sessions.
  • Habits take time to form, which can vary from weeks to years for some people, so routine visits to your therapist are necessary to ensure the treatment plan sticks.

Next Steps

If you think you may benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or know someone who would, there are a few steps to take before scheduling an appointment. 

First, research highly reviewed therapists who specialize in CBT in your area or offer online virtual sessions. Finding a trustworthy and empathetic therapist is paramount to your success in CBT, so check their qualifications, area of expertise, and patient reviews. 

Secondly, think about what issues you want to work on and be prepared to get uncomfortable during your sessions. This discomfort is important for your healing. Don’t be surprised if some tears flow while you work through negative thoughts – celebrate them! You’re growing and healing. 

If you’re ready to take the leap into your therapy journey, you can find some helpful resources here

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