What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

female therapist providing patient with cognitive behavioral therapy

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has become one of the most popular forms of mental health treatment in recent years. This is because CBT is based around empirical evidence, making it an evidence-based treatment (EBT). It works across a wide range of mental health issues, but is most effective at treating:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Criminal behaviors
  • Chronic pain

How CBT Works

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy gets its name from the idea that thoughts drive actions. It works by addressing a person’s thoughts – their cognitive process – to help modify their behaviors. By finding thoughts that damage their mood and perspective, the person then challenges those thoughts or replaces them with new ones. Through altering their outlook, the person can then transform their mood and mindset to one that is more useful.

Once the person identifies thoughts or beliefs which are hurtful, they then seek alternative beliefs to adopt in place of the negative ones.

Example: A person loses his or her job. While this event can be seen as negative, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to pursue new avenues, explore new interests, or seek new opportunities. By seeking a different set of beliefs, a person can literally change their mind.

CBT is particularly effective at treating addiction. It helps patients identify the reasons behind their substance use, better equipping them to combat the destructive state of mind that accompanies a relapse. They are then able to find solutions to combat cravings and helpful ideas to address the underlying causes of their addiction.

A Brief History of CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy came out of psychotherapy, frequently known as talk therapy. It is largely attributed to Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s pioneering work in the 1960s. Dr. Beck and other therapists observed that many patients were suffering due to erroneous beliefs. The theory arose that if a person’s beliefs could be altered, their mental state would improve.

Testing of this theory continues to this day, and the results have been profound. Nearly every type of mental illness is positively impacted by the use of CBT, according to extensive research. Even those with no diagnosed condition benefit from challenging beliefs or “negative thinking” which impact their mood. Clinical studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, show more constructive thinking assists anyone in living a happier, more fulfilling life.

It is this exhaustive research that puts CBT firmly in the category of evidence-based practice since it has been so thoroughly and repeatedly tested with similar results.

How to Use CBT

There are several forms of CBT. In the most popular form, a person uses the “ABC” model. In the ABC model, a person identifies an Activating event (A). They then identify their Beliefs (B) in response to the activating event. Finally, they look at the Consequences (C) surrounding the event. The idea is to determine what thoughts or beliefs create their behaviors. Writing out each step then allows the patient to review their thoughts – often with the aid of a therapist or mental health professional. The ultimate goal is to find what negative beliefs are leading to negative consequences.

CBT is best done with the assistance of a therapist. However, anyone can begin recording their thoughts and identifying patterns that are having an adverse effect on their life. Changing these thoughts may unlock a better state of mind.

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