What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and How Does it Work?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective therapy methods for a variety of mental health conditions and emotional distress. The treatment uses a unique combination of both talk therapy, and behavioral therapy. Aaron T. Beck, an American psychiatrist, invented the treatment in the mid-1960s. Since then, CBT has become a staple in psychological and psychiatric practices and has helped millions of people heal from numerous disorders, including substance abuse, depression, PTSD, marital strife, and more.

patterns, and their values. The therapy is supposed to increase a patient’s happiness, and emotional well-being by drawing attention to dysfunction and negative thought patterns and changing them. Changing these negative beliefs will also redefine a patient’s values, and how they act on those values. In this way, CBT isn’t like traditional talk therapy, although talk therapy is an integral part of its roots. It is a behavioral therapy in that the entire goal of the sessions is to change a patient’s mindset and therefore, their behavior.

This is why the therapy can work for such a wide range of emotional problems and behavioral disorders. And unlike most psychoanalytical behaviors which focus on childhood wounds and trauma, CBT is focused on problem-solving and results. Of course, the therapy will look into the possible causes of a person’s issues, but the treatment is not focused on the cause, but rather, the solution. During CBT therapy, patients are encouraged to recognize and challenge their negative or distorted perceptions about themselves and the world. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, patients are given the tools they need to change their attitudes and their negative behavior patterns.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

At its core, CBT centers around the idea that a person’s thoughts and the way they perceive themselves and the world is at the root of their behavior, whether good or bad. When someone is upset, it can distort their perceptions. During a CBT session, the therapist helps the patient identify these negative and distorted ideas, and helps the patient analyze if their judgment is true, and aligned with reality or not. If the patient’s views are not aligned with an accurate picture of reality, the therapist will give the patient the tools necessary to challenge their beliefs and replace them with realistic expectations. Once a person’s belief system is changed and accurately depicts reality, changes in their behavior will naturally follow.

Who can benefit from CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is suitable for adults, children, and teens. Although CBT is a relatively new therapy method, research continues to grow and support the notion that CBT can be used to treat a variety of disorders adequately. Some of the most common disorders that CBT is used to treat are the following:

  • Major clinical depression
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorders
  • OCD

For mental health disorders, CBT alone is up to 75% effective after at least eight sessions. Combining CBT with medications for certain disorders will give up to 90% of patients relief from symptoms and distress.

Another benefit of CBT is that a person does not have to sit in a face-to-face therapy session to get the full benefits of CBT. Patients who are unable to leave their home or who cannot find a trained therapist local to their area can undergo sessions online. However, it’s best that a patient has a trusting relationship with the therapist, and face-to-face meetings are more effective for building a trusting, working relationship.

How do CBT sessions work?

The first session is typically reserved for both patient and therapist to discuss the issues a patient is facing and needs assistance with, and what the patient’s expectations for CBT are. The therapist will help the patient form realistic goals for therapy, and the therapist will create a customized plan for CBT treatment. Plans are not set in stone, and they can change accordingly as the sessions continue.

In most cases, patients will need to record their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a journal. The therapist will check the journal to see where the patient is perceiving things that may or may not be aligned with reality. For example:

“My boss did not recognize one of my achievements. They are going to fire me.”

A thought like this indicates that the patient is feeling fearful, sad, and unimportant. Their behavior may change in negative ways. They may stop performing at work, avoid their boss, or quit before they can be fired, even though there is no evidence that they will be fired. A therapist will point out these negative, unrealistic perceptions. They will encourage the patient to look for actual evidence, not act on knee-jerk, adverse reactions. A therapist may ask the patient to think about the following:

  • Am I perceiving things realistically?
  • Are my perceptions appropriate?
  • What would happen if I changed my behavior for this situation?

Therapy sessions usually last an hour and are scheduled for once per week. During a meeting, the patient and therapist will discuss current issues they may be having, and the progress they have made so far. A therapist may train a patient on how to use effective relaxation techniques, how to relieve stress in healthy ways and show them specific and practical problem-solving strategies.

Unlike most talk therapy or psychotherapy, CBT is considered a short-term treatment method. However, the length of CBT therapy will be different for every patient, and there is no set standard for the treatment’s duration. Some people may benefit from only a few sessions. But others may need several months of therapy before they feel better if their problems are severe.

Who is qualified to treat patients with cognitive behavioral therapy?

The medical professionals who are most qualified to treat patients with CBT are psychotherapists or therapists who are trained in how to administer CBT. CBT sessions are highly structured, and it is critical that patients find someone who is qualified and who has experience conducting CBT.  A person experienced with CBT may also call themselves a behavioral therapist.

Are you or someone you care about suffering from the symptoms of a mental health disorder, or other emotional distress? The therapists at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health are experienced with administering CBT for patients with mental health diseases and substance abuse. Please reach out to the counselors at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health today to explore your treatment options.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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