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Cognitive behavioral therapy: What to know

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a short-term therapy strategy which can enable people to discover new ways of behaving by modifying their patterns of thought.

CBT participation can help people to relieve stress, cope with difficult relationships, deal with grief, and face many other common challenges in life.

CBT works on the basis that the way we think and interpret life ‘s events affects how we behave and, ultimately, how we feel. Studies have shown that in many situations, this is useful.

More specifically, CBT is a problem-specific, goal-oriented approach which needs the active involvement of the individual to be successful. It reflects on the challenges, emotions and actions of their present day.

It’s also time-limited, meaning the person knows when a course will end and they have an idea of what to expect from them. A course will often consist of 20 one-to-one sessions but this is not always the case.

It can also take the form of either individual or group sessions.

This may also take the form of individual or multiple sessions.

CBT is a collaborative therapy, requiring the individual and counselor to work together. The person gradually learns to become his / her own therapist, according to the American Psychological Association ( APA).

Read on to learn more about what CBT is all about, and how it can help.

What is CBT?

CBT can help with depression, anxiety, and a wide range of other problems.
CBT can help with depression, anxiety, and a wide range of other problems.

CBT is a form of psychotherapy focused on how the thoughts , beliefs and attitudes of a person affect their emotions and behaviors.

The APA states that CBT is based on a variety of beliefs including:

  • Unhelpful ways that people think can lead to psychological problems.
  • If people learn unhelpful behavior, this, too, can lead to psychological issues.
  • People can learn more beneficial ways of thinking and behaving.
  • New habits can relieve symptoms of mental and physical conditions and allow people to act in better ways.

Practitioners base CBT on the idea that concerns emerge from the significance given to events by individuals, as well as from events themselves. Unhelpful thoughts can cause a person’s ability to work easily in various circumstances.

CBT can have a positive effect on how people feel and behave, and can empower them with techniques to cope with challenges.

Research shows that CBT can provide therapy for people with depression, panic disorder and various other problems in their wellbeing. There is also increasing evidence that it can help ease chronic pain.

CBT is a generalized concept. Different CBT styles concentrate on the various aspects of life. Many styles deal with particular problems, emotional or social challenges for example.

A CBT course consists of a series of sessions in which a counselor and an individual or group meet and collaborate regularly.

What can you learn?

During a course of CBT, a person can learn to:

  • identify problems more clearly
  • develop an awareness of automatic thoughts
  • challenge underlying assumptions that may be wrong
  • distinguish between facts and irrational thoughts
  • understand how past experience can affect present feelings and beliefs
  • stop fearing the worst
  • see a situation from a different perspective
  • better understand other people’s actions and motivations
  • develop a more positive way of thinking and seeing situations
  • become more aware of their own mood
  • establish attainable goals
  • avoid generalizations and all-or-nothing thinking
  • stop taking the blame for everything
  • focus on how things are rather than how they think they should be
  • face their fears rather than avoid them
  • describe, accept, and understand rather than judge themselves or others

How do you learn?

Angry couple
Role-play activities allow people to practice and explore different ways of reacting to difficult situations.

Learning tools for CBT include:

  • regular one-to-one or group discussion sessions, or a combination of both
  • frequent feedback
  • role-playing activities
  • ways to calm the mind and body
  • gradually increasing exposure to things that cause fear
  • homework assignments
  • keeping a cognitive behavioral diary
  • practicing the skills learned to promote positive behavioral change and growth

What can it treat?

Therapists developed the first models of CBT to treat depression about 50 years ago. Models for treating a wide variety of conditions now exist, including:

  • panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • insomnia
  • social phobia
  • childhood depression
  • anger
  • marital conflict
  • substance abuse and addiction
  • borderline personality
  • dental phobia
  • eating disorders
  • many other mental and physical conditions

Research has shown that CBT can reduce health-related symptoms than some other treatments are incapable of relieving.

How does it work?

Some types of psychotherapy rely on looking into the past to get a sense of present feelings. In comparison, CBT focuses on current beliefs and thoughts.

CBT will help people with many things where thoughts and beliefs are important. It emphasizes the need to recognize, challenge and change how a person perceives a situation.

According to CBT, the thought pattern of people is like wearing a pair of glasses which make us see the world in a particular way. CBT makes us more conscious of how these patterns of thought create our reality, and how we behave.

Changing distortions and perceptions

CBT can help people to find new ways of looking at things.
CBT can help people to find new ways of looking at things.

CBT aims to transform any ways of thinking and behaving that stand in the way of positive outcomes. For example, when a person has depression, their perceptions and interpretations become distorted.

A distorted view can make someone more susceptible to:

  • a negative mindset
  • jumping to conclusions
  • mistakenly seeing situations as catastrophic
  • seeing things as either good or bad with nothing in between

If people learn to think fearful or negative ways, they can immediately start thinking in this way. CBT focuses on challenging and comparing those automatic thoughts with reality.

When a person can change their way of thinking, their anxiety can diminish, and they will be able to act in a way that will help them and those around them.

With the individual acquiring new skills, they will find it easier to solve problems in a constructive way. This will make them feel more in control and raising the possibility of a depressive mood.

An example: Dental phobia

For example , a person with dental phobia is afraid to go to the dentist because they think they will experience severe pain or even death by having a dental procedure. This fear may have begun with a previous negative experience, perhaps in childhood.

A CBT therapist should work with the person to address the faulty thinking that says “because I had a filling pain, all dental visits are going to be painful.”

The client and the therapist can develop a plan together to see dental treatment in a new way and to overcome the fear.


CBT is a type of psychotherapy in which a person learns how to adjust his beliefs and see problems in his life. That can have a positive effect on mood and behaviour.

CBT can benefit people with many issues, from depression through to chronic pain.

A counselor and client collaborate in identifying goals and expected outcomes. To benefit from it, the person must be an active participant.

Anyone considering CBT should find a professional who is qualified. A doctor may recommend local CBT specialists.

Counseling and counseling can be costly but there are also classes for self-help.

Some researchers reported in 2012 that an online CBT self-help program has been beneficial for people with chronic back pain. That could be promising to some people in the future as a cost-effective option.


My partner has depression. Will CBT help, and how can I get them to sign up for a course?


CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression and, depending on the severity of your partner’s depression, will likely help.

It is hard when someone we love is struggling and is reluctant to seek help.

The best way to encourage your partner toward therapy is to discuss their concerns and fears about going to therapy, rather than telling them they have to go.

Be supportive and let them know it is not that you think something is wrong with them, but that you want them to have some help with their current challenges. Sometimes, people who are depressed want help but don’t know how to get started.

Offering to help them find a therapist and schedule the first appointment can also make them more likely to commit to therapy. Vara Saripalli, PsyD

Answers represent our medical experts’ opinions. All material is purely informational and medical advice should not be considered.

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.