Wondering if therapy could help with your mental health or addiction problems but don’t know where to start? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be a good option to explore. CBT is a type of therapy used to treat various mental health disorders, including trauma, anxiety, depression and addiction.
The insight of the CBT pioneers was that our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all interconnected. CBT teaches us how to recognize and change negative thinking and behavior patterns keeping us from living our best lives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term therapy that usually lasts for 12-20 weeks. During CBT, you will work with a therapist to identify your negative thinking and behavior patterns. You will also learn new skills and techniques to help you change these patterns.
Who Started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT was developed in the 1960s by American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, who noticed that his patients suffering from depression habitually had negative thoughts. So, he adapted cognitive therapy, developed initially to treat psychosis, toward helping people with depression.
Cognitive therapy focuses on helping people identify and challenge their negative thoughts. Over time, CBT has evolved to focus on changing both thoughts and behaviors.
Today, CBT is one of the most widely used forms of talking therapy, and research has shown it to be effective for treating a range of mental health conditions.
How is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Used?
If you’ve never been to therapy before, you might be wondering what to expect from your first CBT session.
Your therapist will want to get to know you and your history. They will ask questions about any past trauma or difficult experiences, as well as any mental health issues you may be dealing with.
They will also want to know about your addictions or unhealthy coping mechanisms. This information will help create a treatment plan tailored specifically for you.
Techniques for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Once your therapist has an idea regarding the problem you are dealing with, they will help you identify the negative thoughts and beliefs at the root of your behavioral problems. Once identified, the therapist works with the patient to challenge and change them through various techniques, such as:
- Discussing evidence that disproves the negative belief;
- Role-playing new responses to old situations;
- Gradually exposing the patient to feared situations.
How Does CBT Approach Thoughts?
Cognitive behavioral therapy categorizes the patient’s thoughts into automatic, core beliefs, and hot thoughts.
Automatic thoughts are the initial reaction we have to a situation. They are often negative and based on previous experiences or assumptions that we may not even be aware of.
Core beliefs are the fundamental and deeply held assumptions about ourselves, others and the world around us. These beliefs can be positive or negative, but they tend to be more resistant to change than automatic thoughts.
Hot thoughts are the intense emotions we feel in response to a situation or trigger. They can make it difficult to think clearly or rationally, and may lead us to act in ways we may later regret.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Benefits
After the negative thoughts and beliefs have been addressed, the therapist will help the patient learn and practice new, more positive coping skills to:
- Manage difficult emotions;
- Deal with stressful situations;
- Make healthy choices.
The therapist will then create a plan and help support as the patient implements these new skills in their day-to-day life.
Reshaping thoughts and behaviors to be more positive can be a slow and challenging process, though very effective in treating mental health conditions like trauma, addiction, anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health problem, consider seeking a therapist specializing in CBT.
How Long Does CBT Last?
Cognitive behavioral therapy usually lasts for 6-24 sessions but can be shorter or longer depending on the needs of the individual. Therapists typically provide CBT in weekly 50-60 minute sessions, though the length and frequency of sessions may vary depending on the problem being addressed.
Is CBT Confidential?
Confidentiality is one of the most critical aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy; it is the only way to ensure that patients feel safe and comfortable enough to open up about their thoughts and feelings. Therapists will not share any information disclosed during CBT sessions with anyone outside the therapist-patient relationship.
While there are some exceptions to confidentiality (such as if the patient is suicidal or homicidal), anything said during CBT sessions will remain confidential. This approach helps create a safe space for patients to explore their thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or disclosure.
If you are considering CBT for yourself or a loved one, ask your therapist about their confidentiality policy to ensure that you feel comfortable and safe during sessions.
Get Started with CBT
Once you have decided to learn more about CBT or find a therapist who specializes in it, there are a few things you can do to get started:
- Read up on CBT: A good place to start is the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists website, which has information on CBT and how it can help with different issues.
- Find a CBT therapist near you: You can search for CBT therapists in your area on the American Psychological Association’s website.
- Talk to your doctor about whether CBT is suitable for you: If you’re struggling with a mental health issue, your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist who specializes in CBT or refer you to a treatment program that offers this type of therapy.
CBT can be an effective treatment for various issues: If you think it might be helpful, don’t hesitate to try it. CBT might be the first step on your journey to a happier, healthier life.