What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” – Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

Hundreds of millions of people suffer from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, or personality disorders worldwide. And these are just a few of those mental conditions that often lead to harmful behaviors such as suicide (Brådvik, 2018).

Applying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in order to help people deal with these and other mental health problems is a common practice in today’s clinical psychology. It’s highly effective psychotherapy that focuses on the way our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes shape our behavior.

CBT helps people deal with a variety of problems throughout life, avoid negative consequences and improve their subjective well-being. In this article, we will review the meaning of CBT and explain how it’s used by counselors to help patients with various problems.

All of the counselors at Health for Life Counseling in Grand Rapids are trained in CBT as a standard practice of becoming a counselor. The counselors are also trained in many advanced modalities as well, but it is good to know about the basics, and that is CBT.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used psychological treatment that helps people identify disturbing thought patterns, realize their negative impact on behavior and emotions, and manage their problems by changing destructive ways of thinking or behavior. The main focus of CBT is to help people recognize how their thoughts, attitudes, and false beliefs affect their feelings and behavior.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally used for treating various types of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use problems, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Plenty of studies demonstrated that CBT is one of the most effective forms of psychological therapy, contributing to significant improvement in everyday functioning and increasing quality of life (He et al., 2019; Hofmann, Wu & Boettcher, 2014).

According to American Psychological Association (APA), CBT is based on the following principles:

  • Mental health problems are partially developed by maladaptive thinking patterns.
  • Mental health problems are partially developed by learned patterns of unhealthy behavior.
  • People with mental health problems can develop effective ways of dealing with their problems, overcome symptoms and improve their functioning in everyday life by reframing their types of thinking.

Traditional CBT sessions are 30-60-minute weekly therapies that usually continue for about 12-20 weeks. However, sometimes modern counselors use shorter forms of CBT, depending on the exact problem of their patient.

How does CBT Work?

Unlike many forms of psychotherapies where counselors are trying to identify the past reasons for the problem, the main idea of cognitive behavioral therapy is to focus on the present thoughts and behavior and overcome the problem by restructuring them. The purpose of CBT is to change the way a person views the situation.

CBT practitioners believe that faulty thinking patterns make the patient look at the world from a specific perspective. Acknowledging how these false beliefs lead to psychological problems and how they determine our behavior helps people to improve their well-being.

During CBT sessions, counselors and patients work on the following problems:

  • Identifying faulty thinking patterns and how they connect with dysfunctional behavior.
  • Realizing automatic thoughts and false beliefs.
  • Revealing irrational beliefs and replacing them with rational thoughts.
  • Looking at the problem from a different perspective.
  • Changing distortions in perceptions.
  • Challenging false assumptions and avoiding overgeneralization of thoughts.
  • Dealing with fears instead of avoiding them.
  • Learning to differentiate the facts and irrational thoughts.
  • Setting achievable goals.
  • Developing a more positive perspective of the problem.
  • Become more aware of themselves.

CBT Techniques

Since there are several forms of CBT including Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Self-Instructional Training, etc., counselors tend to use various techniques. Most of these techniques are focused on identifying dysfunctional thought patterns and working on them. Here are some of the widely used CBT techniques by counselors:

  • Cognitive restructuring – the goal of this technique is to change the way we think. It’s used to replace dysfunctional and stress-provoking thinking patterns or irrational thoughts with accurate and less stressful thoughts.
  • Exposure therapy – exposure is used for dealing with fears or phobias. It’s a powerful technique that aims to expose the things that are perceived as scary by the patient and help them learn how to cope with these fears at the “here and now” moment. Some of the forms of exposure therapy include flooding, systematic desensitization, and situation exposure hierarchies.
  • Recording thoughts – therapist asks the patient to write down the list of negative thoughts during the sessions. They read these thoughts out loud together and work on replacing them. It helps the client to maintain a balanced way of thinking.
  • Role-playingthe counselor and the client switch roles. It helps the client to look at the situation from a broader perspective and build rapport with a counselor.
  • Relaxation trainingusing deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, or imagery, a client learns how to lower stress and maintain control. This technique is especially helpful in the process of dealing with phobias or social anxiety.
  • Behavioral experiments – a client tries out specific ways of thinking and examines the result of particular behaviors. The idea of these exercises is to help the client identify thought patterns that shape maladaptive behaviors.

Advantages of CBT

Numerous studies prove that Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective way of overcoming various psychiatric problems, including conditions such as depression and anxiety. The likelihood of effectiveness increases even more if CBT is used alongside medication. However, the long-term effects of medical treatment on the brain and physical functioning are still uncertain.

In order to avoid significant side effects of medication therapy, counselors often prefer to use CBT alone which is 50-75% effective in the case of dealing with depression and anxiety disorders. Still, using the combination of medication and psychotherapy tends to have the most enduring effect on mental health (Cuijpers, 2014).

The major benefit of CBT is that it helps the clients to deal with maladaptive behavior and thought patterns not only in the present moment but develop learning coping skills that can be used against future problems as well. Some of the other key advantages of using CBT are the following:

  • CBT is effective for clients that are looking for short-term treatments. Most times, 5-20 sessions are enough to notice the improvement in psychological well-being.
  • CBT is used in order to overcome various types of dysfunctional behaviors while medication can’t be used with such a wide variety of problems.
  • CBT is more affordable compared to other types of therapies, especially long-term therapies like psychoanalysis.
  • Studies prove that CBT significantly improves mental health conditions even when it’s used online by counselors.
  • CBT can be used in situations where medication doesn’t show any improvement.
  • CBT is a flexible type of therapy, meaning that it can be used either individually or in groups.
  • Skills that are developed as a result of CBT can be used in everyday life in order to overcome future stressors even long after the treatment.

Nevertheless, Cognitive behavioral therapy is also accompanied by some disadvantages and the most important among them is that it’s not always suitable for clients who have very complex mental health disorders.

Conditions Treated By CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used for a wide range of mental health problems. Here is the list of most frequent psychiatric problems that can be treated by CBT:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance and alcohol addiction
  • Various types of phobias
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anger control
  • Insomnia
  • Grief over loss
  • Marital and relationship problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Chronic pain

Summary of CBT

To sum up, Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used technique by therapists all over the world in order to help people overcome various types of mental health problems. The origin of CBT goes back to the 1950s when an American psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational.

Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), the earliest form of CBT. Later, in the 1960s the technique was improved by Aaron T. Beck who is considered the founding father of the CBT movement nowadays.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy helps clients distinguish their irrational beliefs and thoughts from real-life facts. The purpose of this treatment is to help clients understand that it’s possible to change the way we think, control our behaviors and handle difficult situations. The effects of CBT are proven to be long-term, meaning that disrupting negative thoughts contributes to increased quality of life and improves psychological well-being.

If you are looking for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist in Grand Rapids, MI, give Health for Life Counseling in Grand Rapids and Ada, MI a call at 616-200-4433.

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