Conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and other problems can benefit from a goal-oriented type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT helps to improve the way you think and behave, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a child, teenager, or adult. In other words, it works across the lifespan.
In this article, we answer important questions like, What is cognitive behavioral therapy? Who is it for? What are common CBT techniques and how do they work?
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is a psychological intervention that helps an individual recognize and understand the impact of their thoughts and feelings on their behaviors.
CBT may be used alone or together with other therapies to deal with a mental health condition. However, note that people who simply need help with handling stress and improving their lives can also take advantage of CBT.
For instance, teenagers who are under a lot of stress due to school responsibilities and personal problems may use journaling as a CBT technique to express themselves freely.
What are the Core Concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
The American Psychological Association states that CBT is based on several core principles, including the following[*]:
- Psychological problems are partly based on faulty ways of thinking.
- Psychological problems are partly based on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- People with psychological problems can learn coping skills to relieve their symptoms.
Unlike other forms of treatment, CBT programs improve a person’s state of mind by focusing on the present instead of the underlying causes of their problem or past issues[*].
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Used For?
Cognitive behavioral therapy treats conditions such as addiction, anger issues, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic attacks, and personality disorders[*].
Additionally, CBT may help people affected with insomnia, chronic pain (fibromyalgia, back pain, orofacial pain, and other types), low self-esteem, stress, and burnout[*][*][*][*][*].
For example, a meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled studies found that patients with chronic insomnia were able to improve their total sleep time and sleep efficiency with CBT[*].
In another study, it was shown that CBT helped parents of children with chronic conditions significantly lower their stress levels as measured using the Shirom-Melamed Burnout Questionnaire and Perceived Stress Scale[*].
What are the Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Now that you know what CBT means, its core concepts and the problems that it can help with, below is a list of the different types of CBT for kids, teens, and adults.
- Cognitive therapy: this helps a person recognize and correct false beliefs that are contributing to their stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): this type of talk therapy is best used for people who have difficulty regulating their emotions and are likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors.
- Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): this therapy uses the ABC model, which explains how our interpretation of a situation can affect our emotions.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): this approach uses a number of techniques, including meditation, body scan exercise, mindfulness, and yoga.
- Multimodal therapy: the goal of this psychotherapy is to reduce psychological suffering and achieve personal growth as quickly as possible by implementing multiple techniques at once.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): as the term implies, this therapy focuses on acceptance as a way of dealing with thoughts and feelings instead of fighting them.
A therapist will likely ask a number of questions regarding the individual’s problem so they can decide on the type of CBT that’s most appropriate.
What are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Whether you or your loved one is suffering from a mental health condition or you simply need help with reducing stress and improving the quality of your life, CBT is one of the best treatments you can use.
Here are a number of benefits of CBT for teens and adults backed by research:
- CBT therapy makes the patient an active participant in their treatment, meaning that they work closely with their therapist or mental health professional in setting goals and solving their problems[*]. This increases the patient’s autonomy and gives them more confidence.
- CBT therapy may be short-term (it can be completed in as little as 5 sessions), but its positive effects are long-lasting. A 2019 systematic review looking at 4,118 patients found that cognitive behavioral therapy was generally linked to reduced anxiety symptoms 12 months after completing their treatment[*].
- CBT therapy can be done online. Research finds that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) helps people in rural communities receive mental health therapy without having to travel to the nearest specialist[*].
What are Popular CBT Techniques?
Below is a list of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and how they can be used during therapy sessions or in everyday life:
- Cognitive restructuring: With this technique, you’ll be identifying a negative situation and examining whether your beliefs about this situation are actually based on reality.
- Relaxation and stress reduction: This includes strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization (thinking of a peaceful place), deep breathing, listening to music, and art therapy.
- Journaling or thought recording: Writing things down in a CBT journal allows you to observe your thought patterns and change any unhealthy beliefs.
- Systematic desensitization: This treatment method is used to help you overcome fears and anxieties by exposing you to uncomfortable situations until you’re no longer affected by them.
- Self-talk: This involves replacing self-defeating thoughts with more productive thoughts. Examples of these productive thoughts are, “I am capable of doing hard things” and “I don’t have to be perfect.”
- Behavioral activation: You are encouraged to practice certain behaviors that will change the way you feel, such as playing a sport, exercising, or engaging in a creative hobby.
- Guided discovery: This enables you to develop more positive viewpoints about a belief or a problem. It also lets you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a particular viewpoint.
- Role-playing: In a role-playing session, you’ll be asked to re-enact your response to a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you have certain phobias, such as stage fright or authority anxiety, role-playing can help you become less fearful.
- Pie chart technique: This uses a simple pie chart where you can place your goals and thoughts based on their importance. It’s a helpful way to challenge unrealistic thinking.
- Behavioral experiments: This involves identifying beliefs, conducting an experiment to challenge these beliefs, and drawing conclusions based on the results of the experiment.
What to Expect During Your First CBT Session
Your first CBT session will usually involve your therapist introducing themselves and getting to know more about you — your background, the concerns or issues you need help with, your goals, and more.
You and your therapist will also be discussing a number of things, such as confidentiality, the number of sessions you may need, how long each session will last, and what happens if you cancel or miss an appointment.
It’s totally normal to feel nervous during your first meeting, but keep in mind that your therapist should make you feel safe. Know that you can also ask them questions that help you know whether they’re the right fit for you.
How to Prepare and Get Started with CBT
If you think that CBT can help you, you may start searching for a professional who provides CBT. Examples are counselors, therapists, psychologists, and mental health social workers. You may also contact your local community mental health clinic or your health insurance to ask if they cover CBT.
Before you decide to receive CBT treatment, it’s also important to consider your readiness to change, your level of commitment to the process (because CBT requires active participation), and the costs involved.
Here are more answers to common questions on cognitive behavioral therapy:
What is the primary goal of CBT?
The goal of CBT is to help a person become aware of their thoughts and actions so that they can manage themselves better, cope, and succeed in life.
Is CBT effective?
Research shows that CBT is effective and it can be used alone or together with medication depending on the person’s condition.
What are examples of cognitive-behavioral therapy?
Some examples include writing your thoughts in a journal, performing breathing exercises to release stress, and using self-talk to change the way you feel.
Who is CBT not suitable for?
CBT may not be the best approach for individuals who are highly sensitive and emotional, have more complex needs, and have severe forms of learning disabilities.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works well for a lot of people and it can be used to help with a wide range of problems, including mental health issues, stress, addictions, and physical pain.
What makes CBT a great option is that it requires active participation, has long-lasting effects, and can be performed online for patients who live far or are unable to do face-to-face therapy.
However, like any type of therapy, CBT isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, those who are severely ill or have learning disabilities may benefit from other approaches. If you’re considering CBT therapy, be sure to talk to a qualified health professional for further information.
For more CBT resources, check out our CBT worksheets. Our worksheets provide visual and written engagement to support different modalities of learning, which can enhance traditional talk or play therapy.