What is CBT? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a blend of two existing forms of therapy: cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. This psychotherapeutic approach addresses multiple mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or even addiction. The therapy itself relies on a number of goal-oriented procedures that take a systematic approach to fundamentally changing problematic behavior or emotion.

The therapy — in a nutshell — aims to help you reduce unwanted behavior or emotion by splitting the larger problem — say anxiety — into smaller, and more manageable pieces so that you can better manage your day-to-day struggles. The goal is to use these smaller and more manageable issues to start to change the problematic behavior by changing the negative patterns or triggers associated with them. In essence, you’re lessening the effects of the symptoms so that you can get closer to actually treating the root cause.

CBT cannot “cure” your health problems, but it’s often used in conjunction with other psychotherapy approaches as well as prescription or holistic approaches to medicine. Unlike other psychotherapy approaches, CBT deals with your current problems rather than focusing solely on issues from the past. This approach allows you to deal with your present problems to make day-to-day life more manageable before you attempt to treat the much larger, and more time-consuming root cause.

When is CBT Used?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a number of common mental health issues. In recent years, it has become the go-to form of psychotherapy due to its ability to improve the current mental state and improve day-to-day life without the often-lengthy recovery attributed to normal therapy sessions.

Mental health conditions that are often improved with cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • Sexual disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

In addition, CBT is sometimes used to treat people with long-term health conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome). CBT can’t cure these conditions, but it often makes it easier for the affected to better deal with, and cope with the symptoms.

Often, cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective when combined with other therapeutic approaches that your therapist may recommend to you. Your therapist will be able to recommend or suggest daily exercises or in some cases, prescribed medication when necessary.

What Happens During CBT Treatment?

CBT is often held in weekly or bi-weekly sessions consisting of 30-60 minute conversations between you and your therapist. Throughout the session you and your therapist will break down your overall problem into smaller, and more manageable, chunks. The aim is to separate the disorder into separate parts, such as: your thoughts, actions, and physical symptoms.

After breaking the problem into smaller chunks, you’ll begin going to work on the individualized sections. You’ll analyze each of these areas in order to identify solutions to the problems, as well as set goals that you and your therapist deem appropriate. Then, your therapist will often give you small exercises to work on, such as approaching a stranger in public and starting a conversation. At your next session, you’ll discuss the exercise, how it made you feel, and what you think you can improve upon for next time.

The eventual aim of cognitive behavioral therapy is to apply the lessons you learn in your CBT sessions to your daily life. Once you begin to apply these lessons, change is often imminent, and your overall sense of well being begins to improve. The key is improving things that have a negative impact on your life, and this is something that CBT has proven to be very effective at.

There are a number of pros to cognitive behavioral therapy, but like any therapy, it’s only as effective as the effort that you put into it. To truly benefit from CBT you have to commit yourself to the process even when progress seems slow, or the exercises seem overwhelming. A therapist can help you with your cognitive behavioral therapy, but ultimately the results rest firmly on your shoulders.