There are many potential benefits the average person can gain from cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT for short). CBT involves a range of therapeutic techniques that focus on the role that thoughts (as well as self-awareness) play in a person’s behavior.
CBT is an approach that is considered appropriate for everyone, and it can benefit even those who don’t have any serious disorders. To understand how, it’s important to look at exactly how CBT helps patients.
What is CBT?
CBT is used in the treatment of many common issues like depression, anxiety, phobias, and addiction. The goal of CBT is generally to help patients with one specific problem at a time.
The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (NACBT) describes the overall CBT philosophy as such:
“Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to act better even if the situation does not change.”
CBT is generally considered a short-term process meant to last for up to fifteen sessions. This is because a relatively small number of sessions tend to help most patients, and the long-term effectiveness of CBT is less understood.
Avoid automatic negative thoughts
One of the most important parts of CBT is learning to identify and avoid automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). These are negative, subconscious thoughts that form as responses to everyday events and are generally self-defeating and irrational.
These are the thoughts that say things like “I’m not good enough” or “they’ll laugh at me”. These are thoughts that everyone has at some point or another, but when they’re frequent or constant, they can fuel a wide variety of problems from social anxiety to depression.
Luckily, such thoughts can be identified and changed over time. Many therapists recommend that patients write down the thoughts they have about themselves each day. It’s often surprising how many of these are negative.
Once they’re identified, it’s possible to examine them and any evidence that supports or refutes such thoughts. Through this exercise, patients can combat their often irrational negative thoughts and begin developing healthier thought patterns.
Therapist and patient roles
Therapists take an active role in CBT, and help patients identify the negative thoughts or feelings that lead to faulty beliefs or troubling behaviors. The goal is to clear up any of these behaviors that interfere with relationships and performance.
Use of a thought record, or log, might be helpful in identifying negative thoughts, their triggers, and outcomes. While it can be difficult for some patients to engage in such an introspective process, it leads to essential insights. When this first step is done, the therapist and patient can begin working together to address the problematic thoughts. This is a gradual process meant to reinforce more positive thinking and constructive actions.
For example, someone with extreme anxiety might begin by simply imagining situations that cause them anxiety. Then they can begin practicing how to deal with these situations with friends and family before facing them in a traditional setting. Alternatively, a person suffering from addiction might begin practicing new ways to cope with withdrawal to avoid a relapse.
Each case is typically goal-oriented. The therapist and patient will agree on a goal for the next session, and the patient will receive exercises and try to complete said goal before the next session.
The short-term nature of CBT, combined with the fact that it doesn’t focus on medication or other forms of treatment, makes it an attractive choice for many patients. It’s especially good for those looking for a more structured experience versus the more opened ended nature of other types of treatment.
Anyone who is willing to engage is self-reflection and to put forth the effort to improve their behavior can benefit from CBT.