Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Understanding the Specialty

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Understanding the Specialty

Mental and Emotional Health
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For the 1 in 25 American adults living with a serious mental health condition, the path to recovery can be long and difficult. Sometimes, full recovery isn’t possible and instead, people must learn to function healthily alongside their mental illness. There are a variety of treatment methods that are known to be helpful in managing symptoms of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. While some people turn to lifestyle changes as a way to treat their illnesses, such as implementing routines that include exercise, healthy eating, and a strong support system, that may not be enough to completely manage more serious conditions. A combination of medication and/or therapy is often used to aid treatment. While many types of therapies exist, today we’ll talk about cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, a well-known and effective form of talk therapy, not just for people with mental health conditions, but for anyone seeking help to manage a stressful life situation.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on how our thoughts and feelings affect our behavior. This popular form of talk therapy is usually a short-term treatment option that involves structured sessions with a trained therapist. CBT guides clients through the process of learning to identify destructive or unwanted thought patterns that negatively influence their behaviors.

CBT attempts to change and reshape automatic negative thinking, a spontaneous process that makes us believe things that may not be true, reinforces these false beliefs, and contributes to emotional difficulties, anxiety, and depression. By challenging this thinking in CBT, clients can begin to create healthier thinking patterns, consequently influencing their learned behavior in a positive way. CBT is a scientifically-backed approach that has been proven to be effective by both research and clinical practice.

Treatment can involve a wide range of strategies to change thinking and behavioral patterns. Below are examples of some of these strategies.

Learning to recognize cognitive distortions and reevaluate them in the context of reality
Gaining a better understanding of one’s own behavior and motivations and that of others
Using problem-solving skills to help cope with stressors and situations
Developing a greater sense of self-confidence in one’s abilities
Facing one’s fears
Preparing for interactions with others through role-playing
Learning to calm and relax the body and mind


CBT was introduced in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Beck conceptualized depression through cognitions called “automatic thoughts” that he saw displayed in depressed patients. These patients’ thoughts were categorized into negative ideas about themselves, the world, and the future. This idea of negative automatic thinking formed the basis of CBT– if patients could change these underlying beliefs about themselves, the world, and the future, they could begin to view their world in more realistic terms and change their behaviors long-term.

Today, CBT is popularly used all over the world as an effective treatment for psychiatric disorders, psychological problems, and medical problems.

Types of CBT

Like most therapies, there are different approaches used by mental health professionals. Some different types of CBT include:

Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT): focuses on identifying and changing irrational beliefs. The process includes identifying, challenging, and learning to change thought patterns.
Cognitive therapy: focuses on identifying and changing inaccurate or distorted thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors.
Multimodal therapy: focuses on treating psychological issues through seven modalities: behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug/biological factors.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): focuses on incorporating strategies such as meditation and emotional regulation to address thinking patterns and behavior.

Why CBT?

CBT is an often more affordable therapy that can help treat many disorders. Popular for its ability to help patients quickly identify and cope with challenges, CBT is sometimes more effective when combined with medications or other forms of treatment.

CBT is used in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, anger, PTSD, sleep disorders, eating disorders, OCD, bipolar disorders, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, and sexual disorders. But it isn’t just for people with mental illness and mental health conditions. The therapy can be a useful tool for anyone anyone experiencing stressful, challenging life situations or changes.

Wondering how exactly CBT can be used to help you cope with specific challenges? Below is a list of just some of the ways CBT can help you.

Manage symptoms of mental illness
Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
Treat a mental illness when medication doesn’t work
Learn techniques for coping with stressful situations
Identify ways to manage emotions
Resolve relationship conflicts
Learn to communicate more effectively
Cope with grief or loss
Overcome emotional trauma
Cope with a medical illness
Manage chronic physical illness symptoms

What to expect from a session

It can be scary to start therapy for the first time. You might not know what to expect or if you’ll even benefit from it. It can feel uncomfortable to open up to someone you don’t know. You might feel embarrassed that you are going to therapy because of the stigma you feel from your community. All of these feelings are valid, especially if it’s your first time trying therapy. But it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone and that it’s okay and normal to seek help.

The first step is finding the right therapist for you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness outlines a step-by-step process on how to find a mental health professional. Once your appointment is made with a CBT therapist or counselor, you can expect a few things from the session.

  1. Your therapist gathering information from you and asking questions about what you’d like to work on.

  2. Encouragement to talk about your thoughts and feelings.

  3. A goal-oriented, structured, and collaborative approach to your treatment.

CBT often incorporates homework or tasks that your therapist may assign you to work on outside of sessions. This helps you practice skills in real life, with the goal of giving you more control of your own life and learning to handle situations on your own.

Ready to explore cognitive behavioral therapy? Find a therapist or counselor near me.

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Kristen Luft is a digital marketer working on health-centered blog posts for Wellistic. When she's not writing, you can find her reading, snuggling her greyhound or chihuahua, or following the latest trends on Instagram.