Cognitive-behavioral therapy (A complete guide)


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Page last updated: 13/09/2022

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (A complete guide)

In this blog post, we will be curating and discussing cognitive behavioral therapy and cover topics related to it like how it helps, which mental health disorders does it help with, and what are the different types of cognitive behavioral therapy. 

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is an intensive, short-term (six to 20 sessions), problem-oriented approach. It was designed to be quick, practical and goal-oriented and to provide people with long-term skills to keep them healthy. The focus of CBT is on the here-and-now—on the problems that come up in a person’s day-to-day life. 

CBT helps people to look at how they interpret and evaluate what is happening around them and the effects these perceptions have on their emotional experience.

Childhood experiences and events, while not the focus of CBT, may also be reviewed. This review can help people to understand and address emotional upset that emerged early in life, and to learn how these experiences may influence current responses to events.

According to CBT, the way people feel is linked to the way they think about a situation and not simply to the nature of the situation itself. 

This idea is rooted in ancient Eastern and Western philosophies and became part of a mainstream psychotherapy approach in the early 1960s. 

Aaron T. Beck, the father of CBT, described the negative thinking patterns associated with depression (i.e., critical thoughts about oneself, the world and the future) in his early writings. 

He also outlined ways to target and reduce negative thoughts as a way to improve mood. In later work, Beck and his colleagues focused on the content and processes of thought related to anxiety and ways to treat anxiety problems. 

Since its creation, CBT has expanded into one of the most widely used therapeutic approaches. 

When and why cognitive behavioral therapy is used?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues. It’s often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific challenges. It generally requires fewer sessions than other types of therapy and is done in a structured way.

CBT is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may help you:

  • Manage symptoms of mental illness
  • Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Treat a mental illness when medications aren’t a good option
  • Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations
  • Identify ways to manage emotions
  • Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate
  • Cope with grief or loss
  • Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
  • Cope with a medical illness
  • Manage chronic physical symptoms
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (A complete guide)

Mental health disorders that may improve with CBT include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Addiction
  • Panic attacks
  • Sexual disorders

In some cases, CBT is most effective when it’s combined with other treatments, such as antidepressants or other medications.

Types of Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy encompasses a range of techniques and approaches that address thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These can range from structured psychotherapies to self-help materials. There are a number of specific types of therapeutic approaches that involve CBT:

  • Cognitive therapy centers on identifying and changing inaccurate or distorted thinking patterns, emotional responses and behaviors
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) addresses thoughts and behaviours while incorporating strategies such as emotional regulation and mindfulness
  • Mutli-modal therapy suggests that psychological issues must be treated by addressing seven different but interconnected modalities, which are behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors and drug/ biological considerations.
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) involves identifying irrational beliefs, actively challenging these beliefs and finally learning to recognize and change these thought patterns.

What happens during Cognitive behavioral therapy?

There are following steps that happen during cognitive behavioral therapy which also helps in all the cognitive behavioural therapy sessions:

  • Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life. These may include such issues as a medical condition, divorce, grief, anger or symptoms of a mental health disorder. You and your therapist may spend some time deciding what problems and goals you want to focus on.
  • Become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these problems. Once you’ve identified the problems to work on, your therapist will encourage you to share your thoughts about them. This may include observing what you tell yourself about an experience (self-talk), your interpretation of the meaning of a situation, and your beliefs about yourself, other people and events. Your therapist may suggest that you keep a journal of your thoughts.
  • Identify negative or inaccurate thinking. To help you recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to your problem, your therapist may ask you to pay attention to your physical, emotional and behavioral responses in different situations.
  • Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking. Your therapist will likely encourage you to ask yourself whether your view of a situation is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of what’s going on. This step can be difficult. You may have long-standing ways of thinking about your life and yourself. With practice, helpful thinking and behavior patterns will become a habit and won’t take as much effort.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Below are some of the frequently asked question related to cognitive behavioral therapy:

What does cognitive behavioral therapy involve?

Some forms of psychotherapy focus on looking into the past to gain an understanding of current feelings. In contrast, CBT focuses on present thoughts and beliefs. CBT can help people with many problems where thoughts and beliefs are critical. It emphasizes the need to identify, challenge, and change how a person views a situation. According to CBT, people’s pattern of thinking is like wearing a pair of glasses that makes us see the world in a specific way. CBT makes us more aware of how these thought patterns create our reality and determine how we behave.

What is an example of cognitive behavioral therapy?

For example, “I’ll never have a lasting relationship” might become, “None of my previous relationships have lasted very long. Reconsidering what I really need from a partner could help me find someone I’ll be compatible with long term.”

Can you do CBT on yourself?

If you’ve wanted to try CBT for anxiety or depression but aren’t able to see a CBT therapist, you may not need to. Many studies have found that self-directed CBT can be very effective. Two reviews that each included over 30 studies found that self-help treatment significantly reduced both anxiety and depression, especially when the treatments used CBT techniques. 

The average amount of benefit was in the “moderate” range, meaning people didn’t feel 100% better, but were noticeably less anxious and depressed.

What are the three components of cognitive behavioral therapy?

There are three components of cognitive behavioral therapy:

Cognitive therapy
Behavioural therapy
Mindfulness therapy

All the three have been discussed below:

Cognitive therapy – Cognitive therapy focuses mainly on thought patterns as responsible for negative emotional and behavioral and behavioral patterns. From the perspective of cognitive therapy, negative emotional states are caused and maintained by ineffective or exaggerated biases in thinking. The key intervention in cognitive therapy is identifying distorted or self-defeating patterns, and learning to respond to them with more balanced, reality-based thinking.

Behavioural therapy – Behavioral therapy focuses more on the behavior as the more influential component of problematic psychological patterns. In behavioral therapy, problems are analyzed, and problematic behaviors are identified. The main mechanism of change in behavioral therapy is facilitating the learning and implementation of effective behaviors to replace ineffective behaviors. This can take the form of modeling/teaching new behaviors, increasing exposure to previously-avoided stimuli, and increasing rewarding behavior. Some treatments rely more heavily on cognitive interventions, while others primarily on behavioral.

Mindfulness therapy Mindfulness-based therapies are the newest addition to cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a meditation technique found in Theravada Buddhism, that directs attention to the task at hand in a focused, non-judgmental fashion. Although in some ways it is a cognitive intervention, mindfulness differs from traditional cognitive therapy in that mindfulness emphasizes sustained attention to the present, whereas traditional cognitive therapy relies more on Socratic questioning of assumptions about the past, present, and future.

Is deep breathing part of CBT?

Relaxation and breathing exercises have always been a crucial part of the cognitive behavioral therapy, especially for anxiety disorder.

Is cognitive therapy the same as CBT?

No, cognitive therapy (CT) is one specific form of therapy developed by Aaron T. Beck in 1960s however, CBT is an umbrella term for a group of therapies that share some common elements. 

What types of disorders are best treated by cognitive behavioral therapy?

Studies have shown cognitive behavioral therapy to be an effective treatment for a wide variety of mental illnesses including:

Anxiety disorders
Bipolar disorder
Eating disorders

What happens during a CBT session?

If CBT is recommended, you’ll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two week. The course of treatment usually lasts for between 5 – 20 sessions which lasts for about 30-60 minutes.

During the sessions, you’ll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions. You and your therapist will analyse these areas to work out if they are unrealistic or unhelpful and to see the effect they have on each other and on you. Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

After working out what you can change, your therapist will ask you to practice these changes in your daily life and you’ll discuss how you got on during the next session. The eventual aim of therapy is to let you know how to apply the skills you have learnt during treatment to your daily life. 

This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life, even after your course of treatment finishes.

In conclusion, this blog post gave an in depth information about cognitive behavioral therapy.  We understood why cognitive behavioral therapy is used and when it is best effective. Moreover, the article explained the process of a cognitive behavioral therapy session. 

If you have any questions or comments please let us know.


Rector, N.A.(2010). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: An Informative Guide

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