Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): How Does It Work?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on integrating behavior and cognitive thinking to get people to see a new way of addressing specific issues in their lives. In combination with psychotherapy, it makes for a balanced approach to understanding and treating common life problems. CBT requires you to be an active participant in setting concrete goals and, along with your therapist, determining ways to meet these goals. Therapists use techniques such as visualization, homework assignments, and behavioral exercises, all designed to lower or end the problems experienced.

Making the Most of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Getting the most out of cognitive behavioral therapy depends on your presenting problem, what you want to accomplish and how much time and energy you are willing to invest in your treatment. People who have distinct problems are often the most suitable for CBT because it works through having a specific focus and goals. One of the advantages of CBT is that it tends to be short term, with four to seven months for most problems. You should not expect instant results, however; it takes time, dedication and hard work on your part. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.

The below list is not comprehensive but CBT has proven to be effective for the following problems:

Because of the structured nature of CBT, it may not be suitable for people who have more complex mental health needs or learning difficulties.

What You Can Expect in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

You generally attend one session per week, each lasting approximately fifty minutes. You normally start the first session working with the therapist to identify the problem and develop an initial strategy for addressing it. You will also set your goals and decide the pace, using your treatment plan as a guide.

Subsequent sessions will include homework for you to do between each session, which is very important for helping you achieve successful outcomes and meeting your established goals. An example of homework could include keeping a diary of feelings you experience when incidents related to your problem arise. Another type of homework assignment might entail exercises (mental and/or physical) to do in order to cope with your problem. Homework assignments help you apply the principles you find helpful that will allow you to take more and more responsibility for the content of your sessions. It is imperative when your therapist gives homework and other activities to do outside of your regular sessions, you complete them in the time period agreed to, usually by your next session.

The desired outcome of CBT is that by the end of your therapy, you will feel empowered to continue working independently, using the tools you have developed. It gives you the power to cope with your issue in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life. There is always the chance that the bad feelings you associated with your problem may return, but with the skills you learned in CBT, it should be easier for you to control and/or resolve them on your own.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children and Adolescents

Cognitive behavioral therapy works as well for children/adolescents as it does for adults. One of the differences is that the therapist and child/adolescent may develop goals for therapy, in close collaboration with the parents. Parents are taught the skills they need to encourage and reward positive behaviors in their children. Children and adolescents problems are approached in an age appropriate way. CBT has shown effectiveness in children as young as age eight. Using parental CBT skills, children as young as two or three can learn how to use self-talk (using puppets or dolls as models) in expressing their feelings and concerns. CBT for children and adolescents usually are short-term treatments, often between six to twenty sessions.

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