What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?
Maybe lately you’ve been interested in starting counseling, but you feel confused or overwhelmed by the many choices there are for kinds of therapists and kinds of counseling. You deserve the chance to make an informed choice about what kind of therapy would be best for you, so the next few blog posts will act as a mini-series that breaks down some of the most popular kinds of counseling available today, taking a look at some of the biggest questions you might have about them, starting with…
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Q: What’s the difference between this and other kinds of therapies?
A: This is a great question, but it’s a more easily asked than answered because there are many different other kinds of therapies. Basically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT for short) is a type of psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”. This probably makes you think of psychoanalysis à la Freud, a long couch with a counselor sitting behind it listening to the client talk about childhood wounds by parents.
CBT is definitely not the same kind of therapy as that.
The goal in CBT is not necessarily to figure out deep underlying childhood issues for your problems, but rather, it’s to help solve your behavioral problems effectively and ASAP. CBT does this by identifying your negative thoughts that lead to undesired behavior(s). For instance, someone with anxiety might be thinking negative thoughts like, “If I don’t complete this project perfectly, I’ll be a failure.”
As Ben Martin writing for PsychCentral says, “Clearly, negative things can and do happen. But when we are in a disturbed state of mind, we may be basing our predictions and interpretations on a biased view of the situation, making the difficulty that we face seem much worse. CBT helps people to correct these misinterpretations.”
So, overall, CBT seeks to help you reduce and even eliminate undesired, unhealthy behaviors by realizing the negative, biased, or misinterpreted thoughts you may have about a given situation that are holding you back from changing your behaviors. To return to the example of the person with the project at work, with CBT, that person might work with a counselor to actively identify instances in their life where they are successful, leading to a realization that their negative thoughts are misperceptions and their damaging behavior is therefore not necessary.
Q: How do I know if I would benefit from CBT?
A: Because CBT is very problem/solution-oriented and goal-oriented, it usually works best with people who have a specific problem that they’re trying to address with counseling rather than a generalized, vague feeling of discontentment or lack of fulfillment. Martin lists these problems as a starting point, though not an exhaustive list, of issues that can be effectively treated with CBT:
- anger management
- anxiety and panic attacks
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- chronic pain
- drug or alcohol problems
- eating problems
- habits, such as facial tics
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- sexual problems
- sleep problems
Q: What would happen in a typical session if I was being treated with CBT?
A: CBT is often done one-on-one, but is sometimes done in a group therapy setting, or in a group with family members and/or other people close to you. It will involve a lot of questions about your thoughts and feelings, and will likely involve, according to the Mayo Clinic, “learning and practicing techniques such as relaxation, coping, resilience, stress management and assertiveness.”
A common possibility for CBT is that your psychologist might give you “homework” based on what you discuss. There’s a wide range of possibilities for what this homework might look like – it might be something as simple as keeping a journal about what seems to be triggering your anxiety or depression, practicing a new skills, or as significant as facing a long-time fear. This kind of homework helps you see real results from the counseling in your life.
Q: How long would it last?
A: This is one of the advantages of CBT, particularly if you’re on a budget – it’s typically practiced as a short-term, relatively quick form of psychotherapy to treat a specific problem. On average, it lasts 12-15 session, one session per week based on your needs. But ultimately, the goal of CBT isn’t to keep you in counseling forever. If you’re someone that feels vaguely unhappy, unfilled, etc. and can’t quite put your finger on what’s bothering, then, CBT might not make sense for you. You’d benefit from having a therapist to talk to in the long term.
Q: Are there risks?
A: CBT comes with the risks that you could expect going into any therapeutic relationship. Sessions might sometimes make you sad and uncomfortable as you come to realize how your thoughts are affecting your behavior. Your psychologist might also encourage you to practice skills you’ve learned in session when you leave the office that may push you out of your comfort zone to see how well counseling is working for you – especially in situations you’d rather avoid, such as airplanes if you have a fear of flying. This can lead to temporary stress or anxiety.
Often, CBT can be combined with other types of therapy or with medications if a therapist deems that such combinations would be useful.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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