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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Benefits, Techniques, and Limitations

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  • Experts consider CBT to be the “gold standard” treatment because it can treat many different problems.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you to identify and challenge negative thoughts that affect and hold you back.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the present, so you won’t delve into past experiences or explore unconscious thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that your thoughts can have a significant impact on your mood and emotions. In other words, if you can break unwanted or unhelpful thought patterns, you can change the way you feel and act.

Psychiatrist Aaron Beck developed CBT in the 1960s as a treatment for depression. Beck notes that people with depression often accompanies them Cognitive distortionsNegatively biased and often inaccurate thinking patterns about themselves, others, and the world.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is largely considered gold standard Psychotherapy – not only because there is a wealth of research supporting its benefits, but also because it can be Treating a variety of fears other than depressionIncluding:

Here’s what to know about the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, what to expect from the sessions, and how to try it.

Who Can Benefit from CBT?

CBT may be helpful:

  • If you are depressed: a 2021 revision I found that CBT was more effective at treating depression symptoms than no treatment at all — and as effective as taking it Antidepressants.
  • If you have a concern: CBT can help people challenge catastrophic thinking and other beliefs that drive or increase anxiety Laurel Steinberg, a licensed psychiatrist in private practice. a 2019 review CBT has been linked to a reduction in anxiety symptoms within 12 months after treatment in people with any of them anxiety disorders.
  • If you live with chronic pain: CBT can help people chronic pain Reframing their way of thinking about pain, setting it straight, and working toward acceptance, he says Joshua Claboa clinical psychologist in private practice and originator mental drive. a 2015 review It found that CBT helped reduce pain intensity in 43% of the studies examined.
  • if you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Posttraumatic stress disorder): CBT Can help improve PTSD symptoms For veterans, refugees, and survivors of natural disasters and sexual abuse. a 2018 review found that CBT improves PTSD symptoms more effectively than supportive therapy, self-help booklets, or no therapy. After CBT, 61%-82% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD.
  • If you have an eating disorder: CBT can help with the breakdown Cognitive distortions that contribute to an eating disorder behaviors. a 2018 review I found that CBT was an effective treatment for eating disorders – in particular bulimia nervosa And the binge eating disorder These benefits were maintained at 3-6 months follow-up.
  • If you have a substance use disorder (SUD): a 2021 revision I found that CBT helped treat her effectively Alcohol dependenceAnd the Marijuanacocaine and opiates. Not only did CBT help reduce drug cravings and substance abuse. It also helped reduce other symptoms such as extreme mood swings and anxiety.
  • If you experience a relationship conflict: Cognitive behavioral therapy may help you get along better with others, according to Steinberg, because it can challenge distorted thought patterns that contribute to relationship stress and disagreements. a Study 2018 It found that after women who had felt sad in their marriage attended four 90-minute sessions of CBT, the reported quality of marriage increased significantly.

It should be noted that CBT translates well as well Virtual sessionsto me Megan TurnerHe is an Associate Professional Consultant licensed in Emerging Consulting at Competition Cove.

a 2017 review Internet-based CBT has been found to be effective in treating:

Basics of cognitive behavioral therapy

According to cognitive behavioral therapy theory, fixed thought patterns can negatively affect your mental health and well-being — but because these patterns are learned over time, you can take action to “break them” for a better quality of life.

Here’s how it works, according to Martin: You walk past a group of giggling coworkers and immediately assume they’re talking about you. This belief elicits feelings of shame, shame, or even anger. Therefore, you avoid the situation and isolate yourself.

Replacing that thought with the possibility of someone telling a funny joke that has nothing to do with you, Martin says, might spark feelings of curiosity that lead you to engage with your co-workers and possibly make new friends.

“Different thoughts lead to different feelings, which then lead to different behaviors,” Martin says.

what are you expecting

Your therapist will work with you to explore various techniques that can help you address any patterns of thought and behavior that are disrupting your daily life. According to Martin and Turner, these techniques may include:

  • role play: This includes creating imaginary scenarios to prepare for interactions that are otherwise troubling or challenging. It also helps you practice communication, conflict resolution, and social skills.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: This includes identifying and reframing negative thought patterns. For example, “I lost my job because I was worthless” might read, “Losing this job was hard, but I thought it wasn’t a good fit — and now I’m making way for opportunities more suited to my skills.”
  • Socratic Dialogue, or Guided Discovery: You’ll answer questions from your therapist that help you unpack your thoughts, assess their accuracy and usefulness, and test them against reality. For example, Turner says your therapist might ask, “What is the evidence that no one will hire you after college? What would you say to a friend in your place?”
  • behavioral activation: This involves monitoring your daily activities and then setting a time schedule for those that you find enjoyable, meaningful and empowering
  • Relaxation and floor exercises: Your therapist will teach you deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and Mindfulness exercises — which Turner says can reduce anxious thoughts by helping you feel more present and in control.
  • successive approximation: This technique teaches you to break down tedious tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to increase your confidence and deal with anxiety.
  • Exposure treatment: You’ll use this approach to slowly and gradually expose yourself to your fears or fears as you implement your therapist’s instructions for managing feelings of anxiety that surface.
  • behavioral experiments: You’ll predict the outcome of a frightening or overwhelming event and then proceed to compare your prediction with what actually happened.

Another important part of CBT? Homework.

Martin says your therapist will likely ask you to keep a daily log:

  • negative thoughts
  • The effect on your mood
  • Positive alternative thoughts

They will also likely recommend practicing the relaxation and grounding techniques you learned in therapy between sessions.

According to Clabeau, this homework aims to help you continually reinforce and build the skills you learn in therapy and apply them in everyday life. The idea is that you will eventually learn to become your own therapist.

Klapow says CBT usually lasts 8 to 16 sessions, although this can depend on the severity of your symptoms and why you’re seeking treatment.


While many experts consider CBT to be the “gold standard” treatment for many mental health conditions, it’s not right for everyone—and it is. It is not the only effective approach. else folk methods Include:

According to Clabo, like psychotic disorders SchizophreniaThey do not always respond well to CBT, because people who feel disconnected from reality may not be able to test the validity of their thoughts.

Also, because CBT focuses on your current life rather than past events, Martin says it’s not ideal for working through childhood trauma.

However, Klapow says CBT can be combined with other modalities to help you unpack and test the impact of trauma on your beliefs about the world. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy might be Use with personal therapy If you find it difficult to form or maintain healthy relationships.

Informed takeaway

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help many people with a range of fears — from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and substance use problems.

This method focuses on addressing existing mental health symptoms by challenging and replacing cognitive distortions.

While it may not be the ideal approach if you want to work through childhood trauma or other experiences from your past, it can provide a great place to start working through thought patterns that negatively affect your mood, emotions, or behavior.

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