What Is CBT Therapy And How Does It Work?

When you enter the world of therapy and mental health, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. There are so many terms not used in everyday conversation (let’s not get into how maybe that shouldn’t be the case right now!) and countless options available. The following will explore just one concept in detail: cognitive behavioral therapy.

It is crucial that before moving forward, that individuality is emphasized. When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Never settle for something that isn’t working for you; keep trying new treatments, approaches, and techniques until you find something that is having a positive impact and feels right for you.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (called CBT for short), is a form of talk therapy (psychotherapy). The therapy involves working with a mental health counselor, psychotherapist, or therapist and is built upon the ideas that how a human thinks influences how they feel and behave, that people’s thoughts can often determine feeling and behavior, and that feelings, in return, affect thoughts. A holistic approach to mental health, therefore, involves keeping all these ideas in mind throughout the talk therapy.

The goal of CBT is to discover, identify, and alter the thought patterns that are harming a person’s life. Often this means working on automatic negative thoughts that arise seemingly without a person’s conscious effort. Spontaneous negative thoughts can be extremely harmful, and so CBT aims to identify these thoughts, challenge them, and then replace them with thoughts that are more objective and realistic.

What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Used For?

People who are challenged by stress, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, addictions, eating disorders, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, bipolar disorders, depression, phobias, relationship struggles, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and unhelpful thinking patterns can be aided by cognitive behavioral therapy can find cognitive behavioral therapy a helpful tool. Sometimes CBT alone is enough to overcome struggles, whereas other people might prefer to use it in tandem with another option.

It is also worth noting that not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition. All humans have thoughts, and these thoughts can be improving one’s experience of life or reducing one’s enjoyment of living. Almost everyone has a blind spot or two where their thinking could improve.

In particular, CBT can help with:

  • Managing the symptoms that come along with a mental illness
  • The prevention of a relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Management of chronic physical symptoms
  • An alternative treatment when medications are not the right fit
  • Assisting with coping with grief or loss
  • Coping with a medical illness
  • Overcoming trauma related to past experiences, including violence or abuse
  • Resolve conflicts in relationships and offer better ways to communicate
  • Finding a way to manage emotions
  • Discovering techniques for coping with stressful life changes

Kinds Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT includes a variety of techniques and approaches that work to identify, evaluate, and improve thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This can mean anything from structured psychotherapies to take-home self-help materials. In particular, you may have heard of:

  • Cognitive Therapy: a therapy that focuses on discovering and altering inaccurate or distorted patterns of thinking, emotional responses, and behaviors
  • Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT): a form of therapy that aims to identify irrational beliefs, question these beliefs, and developing the ability to recognize irrational beliefs and alter them in the future
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): a therapy that responds to thoughts and behaviors while employing strategies like emotional regulation and mindfulness
  • Multimodal Therapy: a form of CBT that uses a model of seven interconnected elements that each must be addressed. These elements are behavior, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug/biological factors.

Each of these therapies and the countless other versions of CBT uses different methods and approaches to accomplish the same goal. The aim is to work on underlying thought patterns that are causing psychological distress.

Common Techniques

Again, there are many different pathways to accomplishing cognitive behavioral therapy aims. This being said, several common routes can be taken depending on a person’s situation.

Identifying negative thoughts is a crucial part of CBT, yet this can be a very difficult stage for some people. It is possible that negative thought patterns developed in very early childhood and have been a part of someone’s experience for so long that they almost do not notice them anymore. Thought habits that have taken place for ten or twenty or fifty years take time and effort to isolate. If someone struggles with introspection or dissociation,

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As discussed above, cognitive-behavior therapy can assist people with coping and altering troublesome thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Cognitive-behavior therapy has been specialized to aid with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). This specialized version is called exposure and ritual prevention and focuses on addressing two different kinds of associations that occur in people with OCD.

The first kind of association is those that create a link between objects, situations, or thoughts and sensations of distress. The second is the link between reductions in stress and ritualistic behavior as Virtuous Circle Counselling states that CBT can show patients how to identify and alter patterns that contribute to distress. Since when OCD is present, automatic bonds between feelings of stress and anxiety and ritualistic behavior are also present, distressing patterns are common.

Risks Associated With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Given the structure of cognitive-behavioral therapy, there are very minimal risks associated with it. This being said, the experience can leave you feeling emotional, uncomfortable, or vulnerable at times. It can be used to explore painful experiences and to interact with emotions you have disassociated from. You can tear up or get angry during a more difficult session. You might also feel a little tired or drained afterward.

Try It Out

If you think that cognitive-behavioral therapy is right for you, there are three steps you can take to getting involved with it. First, you can seek out a therapist. This can be done by speaking to your doctor for a referral, asking your health insurance plan provider, or asking for input from a trusted friend or colleague. If you don’t have any of these pathways available, you can also begin by doing your search online. Look for a therapist with a related degree and has state or province certification and licensing.

You’ll also need to look into the costs associated with the therapy. If you have a health insurance provider involved, you’ll need to figure out what limitations the policy has. If you are paying out of pocket, speak to your therapist about the options available. It is also possible to find free or low-cost therapy options meaning you will be able to find something you can afford.

Thirdly, when interacting with a therapist or potential therapist, it’s a good idea to have already thought about what you want to work on. This can help you, and your therapist determines a good starting point for your therapy. If you have fears or concerns related to therapy or medical establishments, it is also a good idea to talk through these so that your therapist knows where you are coming from.

You must view cognitive-behavioral your first session as a trial run. This is you and your therapist getting to know each other and deciding how well you can work together. Be sure to have your therapist express their approach, what methods they think will work for you, the aims of the treatment, the length of each session and any homework you might be expected to do, as well as how many therapy sessions they expect you will need.

Length Of Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is typically on the shorter end of the therapy spectrum and involves, on average, somewhere between five to twenty sessions. Of course, every situation is slightly different, so the number of sessions will depend heavily on your situation, any disorders you have that are present, the severity of your symptoms, and how long you have been dealing with them. As well, given the emotional challenges that can arise during cognitive behavioral therapy, there is a wide range in how quickly a person can make progress. The speed of your progress depends on a lot more factors than just your willingness to participate and do the work; the stress you’re experiencing on a daily basis is a big part of how much energy you have to work on CBT. As well, having support from family members or other people can alter the speed of progress.

As with all forms of therapy, being honest is a crucial part of whether or not the approach is successful. If you can share openly what is going on with you, you might have an easier time getting results. Doing any assigned homework between sessions will also help increase the odds of a positive outcome.

The above information should have outlined the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy for you. If you believe this form of therapy is right for you, there is absolutely no harm in reaching out to a professional to speak about your specific situation and whether or not they think they can help.