What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

| Staff Writers

cognitive-behavioral-therapyExploring negative thoughts, feelings and patterns of behavior to affect positive change is at the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy relies on a collaborative relationship between patients and their therapists.

CBT is used to help identify irrational beliefs that cause a person to experience mental distress. Once patients become aware of these thoughts or beliefs, they can test their validity in order to overcome negativity and better cope with stress. CBT has an excellent record of success and is often used to help patients who suffer from depression or anxiety-based disorders. It has applications beyond these arenas too. CBT is often used to help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is even being used in Britain to help individuals with schizophrenia.

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A Goal-Oriented Approach

CBT is considered highly instructive because therapists help patients learn how to achieve their goals. Of course, that means that goal setting is a crucial part of the therapeutic process. In this form of psychotherapy, the therapist doesn’t identify goals for a patient. Instead, patients determine that they want to stop entertaining negative beliefs and thoughts. They then work towards the goal of eliminating the feelings and emotions that are keeping them from living a full life. Specific goals are often set by individual patients, but the overall goal of CBT is to adopt healthier beliefs and ways of thinking. This type of cognitive therapy is notable because it occurs over a limited period of time. Instead of going to a therapist for years on end, a patient attends a set number of counseling sessions with the end goal of healthier thinking in mind.

Identifying Unhealthy Beliefs and Patterns of Thought

Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as obsessive compulsive disorder and depression are often mired down in negative thought loops. Individuals who experience depression might believe that they’re worthless and will never amount to anything. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders might have irrational fears of uncontrollable environmental factors such as germs or birds. Therapists who practice CBT believe that these individuals can find relief by identifying these negative beliefs and learning ways to overcome or cope with them. Patients and therapists are expected to have open, honest conversations so that they can work together to identify these problematic beliefs and move forward with therapy.

Testing and Restructuring Irrational Beliefs

Restructuring irrational beliefs is the meat of cognitive behavioral therapy. Doing so means testing these beliefs soon after they are identified. For example, a patient who feels that she isn’t appreciate or loved by anyone might be asked to interact with her friends and find out what they appreciate about her. A patient who is afraid of fish might be asked to visit an aquarium and eventually work up to touching or holding a fish. By testing their irrational beliefs, patients are able to discover that the negative feelings they have about themselves, other people or objects are unfounded. Therapists then work with their patients to develop healthier, reality-based beliefs and thought patterns.

Long-Term Wellness with CBT

Cognitive therapy does exactly as its name suggests and works to restructure the actual thought processes of patients. It’s considered one of the earliest interventions for many disorders and is also one of the most effective. One reason so many patients have gravitated towards cognitive behavioral therapy is that it provides them with lifelong strategies for mental wellness.

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