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Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

a therapist takes their glasses off while looking at a patient

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term psychotherapy approach. The intent of CBT is to help people refrain from undesirable behaviors by changing their thought patterns. The idea behind this approach is that thought patterns and the way we process life events have a great influence on our behaviors and feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective talk therapy approach that aims to teach coping skills and strategies for dealing with a variety of obstacles throughout life. One of the major components behind the theory of CBT is that distorted thinking can lead to anxiety, depression, and problematic behaviors while thinking logically with a positive outlook can help people respond to life events more effectively. Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful and useful technique for treating depression, anxiety, and panic and disorders, as well as addiction and other dysfunctional behaviors.   On a fundamental level, cognitive behavioral therapy works. Successful application of CBT will consist of structured, collaborative therapy sessions between a counselor and patient. Sessions will involve clearly identifying the problem, goal setting, thorough and frequent communication, “homework” assignments, and feedback as well as the teaching of tools to help achieve behavioral changes and personal growth.   

History of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The practice of mindfulness dates back thousands of years to early Buddhism and Hinduism. Modern cognitive behavioral therapy is a relatively new psychotherapy method that was created in the 1960s for the treatment of depression. The Association for Behavioral Cognitive Therapies was founded in 1966 for CBT professionals and researchers. The 1979 book Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders by Aaron T. Beck was one of the first to explore cognitive behavioral therapy as a form of psychotherapy and was groundbreaking for its time. Today, CBT is modeled to treat a variety of behavioral disorders including anxiety, insomnia, social phobia, anger, addiction, and schizophrenia as well as panic, post-traumatic stress, bipolar, borderline personality, and eating disorders.  

How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy can be more effective at treating behavioral problems than some medications and other forms of psychotherapy. It can be used to treat almost any dysfunctional behavior issue in which cognition plays a major role. In clinical studies, CBT is known to be the most effective form of talk therapy. Unlike medication, cognitive behavioral therapy yields minimal side effects. After undergoing short-term CBT treatment sessions, many patients exhibit significant signs of improvement. Even when they discontinue therapy, most patients continue to improve because they are able to leverage the tools they learned in CBT and adjust their thinking styles and behaviors for the long-term. In order for cognitive behavioral therapy to be truly effective, patients must commit to doing their “homework” between sessions with their cbt therapists. This means they use the skills they learned during therapy and apply them to real-life scenarios before their next visit. The process will also involve confronting various anxieties and fears, which can be difficult to do. With dedication, CBT is very effective in treating most behavioral problems. However, cognitive behavioral therapy is not suited for every individual, and some will benefit from the treatment more than others. The therapy may not be effective for those with deeply-rooted mental health problems stemming from childhood or severe trauma. In these cases, longer-term psychotherapy can be more effective in treating behavioral issues.

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How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing certain thoughts and behaviors that prevent positive results. The psychotherapy technique can assist with working out numerous emotional, medical, and social problems. CBT is short-term and involves one-on-one treatment sessions. The therapy sessions are goal-oriented and intended to eliminate cognitive issues and prevent relapse of various behavioral disorders. CBT is a one-on-one, short-term form of psychotherapy therapy that lasts anywhere from one to twenty sessions. It is problem-specific, goal-oriented, designed to achieve remission and prevent relapse of specific mental disorders. Other forms of psychotherapy work by exploring a person’s past to gain insight into their emotions and behaviors. Conversely, CBT focuses on present beliefs and feelings. During cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, patients will develop skills to help them recognize problematic thinking, modify their thought patterns, and behave in more productive ways. Eventually, they will develop the tools to be able to act desirably in their ongoing life.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the following core principles:

  1. Psychological behavioral issues are partially based on insufficient ways of thinking.
  2. Some psychological problems are a result of learned patterns of faulty behaviors.
  3. Individuals who suffer from psychological behavioral issues can learn better ways to cope in therapy which will relieve their symptoms and allow them to live less strained or destructive lives.

Cognitive misinterpretations can lead to adverse behaviors. When someone goes through a stressful experience, certain thoughts will automatically arise, leading to unfavorable emotions. Some individuals draw incorrect or illogical conclusions about the meaning of certain events and experiences based on this automatic thought process. When this occurs, they may fret, overreact, or shut down completely. This flawed thinking will lead to negative behaviors unless interrupted or corrected through psychotherapy. For example, a person with social phobia is similar to social anxiety disorder, and a person may have feelings of fear attending a birthday party because they perceive that they will suffer from ridicule or trauma by being around groups of people. This fear may be triggered by an early childhood experience and can cause a person with social phobia to feel severe anxiety, experience sleep deprivation, and avoid a number of social scenarios. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help their patients realize how distorted thoughts directly affect moods and ignite fears and teach them how to change these thinking patterns. During CBT sessions, the patient and therapist will work together to develop a plan to overcome negative thoughts and irrational fears.

Common practices in cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Identifying problem areas
  • Practicing awareness of automatic thought patterns
  • Diminishing negative thinking
  • Learning to distinguish between rational and irrational emotions
  • Challenging underlying assumptions
  • Learning to view situations from various perspectives
  • Identifying what is realistic and what is illogical fear
  • Learning to stop catastrophizing
  • Testing perceptions against reality
  • Examining the validity of certain thoughts
  • Modifying distorted beliefs
  • Improving awareness of moods
  • Avoiding “all or nothing” thinking
  • Keeping a cognitive behavioral journal
  • Slowly increasing exposure to feared scenarios

During cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist and patient will discuss different techniques and develop goals and practices that will be used throughout treatment as well as after CBT is completed. In order to see sufficient results with CBT, patients must be an active participant in their treatment.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Modernizes Mindfulness

Cognitive behavioral therapy is typically very systematic and structured with frequent practice. This is part of what makes the treatment effective. For example, a person undergoing CBT to treat depression may be asked to write down their thoughts each time an upsetting event occurs. They will then work with their behavioral therapist to test how accurate and productive those thoughts are. Frequent and repeated practice is an essential piece of successful cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT does not teach those with behavioral disorders what they didn’t already know. Instead, it works by reminding them of what they need to do. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses less on conveying new information and more on building new habits. This form of psychotherapy helps patients by repeatedly exhibiting where flawed thinking can lead them astray and offers them better alternatives for moving forward.

What Happens During a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session?

Since cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy, early treatment will be similar to those in any initial therapy session. CBT Sessions will begin with a discussion of the patient’s background, expectations, and a general overview of the therapy. During the subsequent sessions, the patient will discuss their fears, struggles, and emotional setbacks. The therapist will work with them to develop the most effective responses to these emotional dilemmas. CBT patients will prepare for behavior therapy sessions by thinking of emotional hurdles they’d like to overcome or stressful situations they fear. After presenting these items to the therapist, the two will work together to create an action plan. The goal of the plan will be to identify problematic thoughts and reactions and use strategies to change the adverse behaviors in between therapy sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy action plans are sometimes referred to as “homework”.   With relatively few therapy sessions and active application of goals and strategies, CBT has shown to be effective at reducing symptoms of behavioral problems. Cognitive behavioral homework may include keeping a journal of moods throughout the week, relaxation techniques, assigned reading, or seeking out opportunities to apply the refined approach to feared scenarios. Cognitive behavioral therapy works by eliminating behavioral symptoms as soon as possible. This usually occurs within a few weeks or months of starting treatment. It’s important to keep in mind that results from CBT will depend on the number and severity of a person’s cognitive issues, but the approach is typically used for shorter periods of time than other forms of intensive psychotherapy.

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapists work with their patients to determine the best course of action for treatment. CBT may consist of a variety of techniques including exposure therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and exposure and response prevention.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy works by encouraging patients to gradually face feared situations and repeat the process on a regular basis.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a cognitive behavioral therapy program that utilizes tested mindfulness techniques with consistent practice to achieve certain behavioral outcomes.

Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a form of exposure therapy that has patients confront their fears and resist their escape response. ERP is commonly used to combat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).   Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective form of psychotherapy. Negative, distorted thoughts and emotions can lead to problematic behaviors and a dysfunctional lifestyle. CBT helps individuals recognize disordered thinking, understand cognitive distortions, modify their outlook, and practice facing situations with the right tools to help them cope. At APEX, cognitive behavioral therapy is used as part of our approach to integrative treatment. Through CBT, we are able to help patients adjust their thinking and behavioral patterns and help them overcome addiction, mental illness, and depression. Our cognitive behavioral therapists work closely with patients to improve their outlook, behaviors, and general lifestyle. APEX administers cognitive behavioral therapy to combat a variety of conditions including addiction, depression, anxiety, and phobia. It’s a very hands-on approach that allows our cognitive behavioral therapists to work closely with each patient to improve his or her behavior and thought patterns through thought and behavior therapy. For more information on cognitive behavioral therapy or other rehab programs we offer, contact us at APEX Recovery Center today! 

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