When working with a local therapist, one of the most common approaches to therapy that’s used is called cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological treatment that’s evidence-based and can help with a wide variety of mental health problems, including:
- Alcohol and drug addiction
- Eating disorders
- Relationship and marital problems
- Severe mental illness
There are research studies showing that participating in CBT can help improve quality of life and functionality. In many of the currently available studies, CBT is shown to be as effective or even more effective than other forms of therapy and prescription medications.
The following are eight key things to know about this therapeutic approach.
1. How It Works
CBT challenges the problematic or ineffective thought patterns a patient may have, which are cognitions, as well as behavioral patterns. The goal of CBT is to help someone live a more fulfilling life and have a better sense of well-being overall.
With just behavioral therapy on its own, you learn how to understand the consequences of your actions as a driver of your behavior.
CBT goes more in-depth than that. You can learn how to think about things differently so that you can then behave differently.
During the therapy sessions, you explore and develop methods to deal with challenges in your day-to-day life.
According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is based on some core beliefs, including the fact that unhelpful thinking and behaving can cause psychological distress, as people, we can learn better ways of thinking and behaving, and new habits can help alleviate physical and mental conditions.
2. Finding A Therapist
If you want to find a therapist who specializes in using CBT, an online search and a tool like Mental Health Match can be most effective. You can filter through the therapists in your area and find someone who not only practices CBT but might be a good fit for you in other ways as well.
Even once you have a list of therapists in your area who specialize in CBT, you might interview or meet with them to find someone whose personality works well with your own.
You can ask questions and interview potential therapists. You might talk to the therapist about how many cases of your certain condition they’ve treated, whether they give homework to do between sessions, and what they think your treatment plan could look like.
3. There Are Subtypes Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
There are some different subcategories of CBT that a therapist might use as well.
For example, dialectical behavioral therapy or DBT is often considered a type of CBT. With DBT, you work on addressing your thoughts and behaviors, but you also integrate strategies like mindfulness and emotional regulation.
Multimodal therapy is an approach that treats psychological issues by addressing seven different modalities—these are behavior, affect, imagery, sensation, interpersonal factors, drug/biological considerations, and cognition.
4. The Benefits
There are some identified key benefits that come with CBT.
First, when you work with a qualified therapist, you can begin to engage in healthier thought patterns and then become more aware of your negative or unrealistic thoughts. Another benefit is that CBT is a relatively short-term therapeutic approach. You can see improvements in just 5 to 20 sessions.
CBT is helpful for a wide variety of what is considered maladaptive behaviors, even outside of a diagnosed mental health condition.
This type of therapy also tends to be more effective than other comparable options.
You can work on learning coping skills to use immediately but also well into the future in your life.
5. Activities Involved
Your exact course of therapy will depend on your unique needs, but during CBT, some of the things you might expect to do specifically include:
- One-on-one or group sessions, or sometimes a combination of both
- Role-playing activities
- Learning strategies to calm your mind and also your body
- Frequent feedback from your therapist
- Homework assignments between sessions
- Increased exposure to things you fear (gradually)
- Maintaining a cognitive-behavioral diary
- Learning and practicing skills that help with behavioral change
6. Expect Homework
As we’ve talked about, CBT very often includes homework, and it’s an important part of seeing improvements. Since CBT does focus on quick, effective alleviation of symptoms, homework is important.
When you do homework, you’re applying techniques throughout your daily life and not just in your therapy sessions.
Your homework might include using worksheets, keeping a journal of the emotions you experience throughout your week, and practicing relaxation exercises.
Your therapist might also want you to do some reading on things that are specific to what you’re working on in your sessions.
After you complete your homework, you debrief with your therapist in your next session, talking about what worked for you and what didn’t, and then you can refine the process for the following week.
7. The Downsides
No therapeutic approach is for everyone.
CBT’s downside primarily is that it’s about focusing on a specific issue. If you want a long-term therapy solution, CBT isn’t it. You’re also not likely to talk a lot about your past experiences with CBT since it’s more about the here and now and moving forward.
CBT focuses primarily on symptoms and not underlying causes, so you could find that it isn’t what’s right for you.
Everyone’s needs are unique.
8. How To Know It’s Working
Again, CBT should allow you to see improvements fairly quickly in your life. So how do you know if it’s working?
If your CBT is working, you should notice changes in your behavior. These changes mean that you might function better if you’re experiencing depression, for example, or you can approach situations with more ease than you once feared.
You can take time to reflect on your goals and progress in sessions with your therapist, and if your treatment isn’t helping you with your symptoms, this is something you need to talk about with them. Your therapist can make adjustments as needed.
Finally, you don’t want to just continue with therapy that isn’t helping you because that can end up reinforcing unhelpful behaviors.