Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that has its basis in the notion that the way we view, interpret, and make meaning of experiences in our lives (i.e., the “C” in CBT, or “cognition”) plays a large role in influencing our emotional and behavioral reactions. Clients who participate in CBT learn strategies for identifying, modifying, and distancing from thinking that is inaccurate, upsetting, or otherwise unhelpful. For example, a person might be quite upset by the idea that idea, “I have no friends,” but evidence from text messages and voicemails from friends wanting to spend time would suggest differently. Cognitive behavioral therapists help their clients recognize the impact of such thinking and adopt healthier, more balanced ways of viewing themselves and the world around them. They also help their clients to identify themes associated with repeated patterns of thinking that are indicative of underlying beliefs formed during key developmental life experiences.
Cognitive behavioral therapists also help their clients adjust problematic behavioral patterns that contribute to emotional distress and interference in important domains of life, such as academic or work performance, relationships, or individual pursuits. Behavioral strategies include (but are not limited to) planning engagement in rewarding activities (i.e., behavioral activation), facing fears that are typically avoided (i.e., exposure), improving upon self-care habits, acquiring effective communication skills, learning tools to tolerate emotional distress and regulate emotions, setting goals, and problem solving ways to overcome obstacles.
Providers who practice from a contemporary CBT framework also incorporate a focus on acceptance into their cognitive behavioral work. Acceptance strategies help clients to embrace upsetting thoughts and emotions, rather than pushing them away, and focus on the present moment rather than ruminating about the past or anxiously anticipating the future. Acceptance work often provides the opportunity for clients to develop much insight, wisdom, and even transcendence in the face of their life problems. Psychologists at the Center find that their therapeutic work usually involves a fairly equal balance between acceptance strategies and cognitive and behavioral change strategies.
In addition to these strategies, there are many additional features of CBT that many clients find attractive. These features are as follows:
- The therapist works collaboratively with the client to apply cognitive behavioral theory to understand the issues that have brought the client to therapy.
- At the beginning of the course of treatment, a treatment plan is developed to identify specific goals for therapy, ways to measure progress, and corresponding CBT strategies that can be implemented to meet those goals.
- At the beginning of each session, the therapist and client work together, collaboratively, to identify goals for the session in order to maximize effective use of time.
- A homework exercise is developed collaboratively between the therapist and client so that the client can generalize the strategies, skills, or knowledge to their daily life.
- The therapist regularly obtains feedback from the client to ensure that the client understands the concepts that have been discussed in session and is in full agreement that the concepts have relevance to their life.
You can read more about CBT from these sources:
- The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy: https://beckinstitute.org/get-informed/what-is-cognitive-therapy/
- The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT): https://www.abct.org/Help/index.cfm?m=mFindHelp&fa=WhatIsCBTpublic
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/therapy