Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common type of mental health counseling (psychotherapy). With cognitive behavioral therapy, you work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very helpful tool in treating mental disorders or illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. But not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition. It can be an effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues. It's often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific challenges. It generally requires fewer sessions than other types of therapy and is done in a structured way.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may help you:
Steps in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy typically includes these steps:
Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life. These may include such issues as a medical condition, divorce, grief, anger or symptoms of mental illness. You and your therapist may spend some time deciding what problems and goals you want to focus on.
Become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about these situations or conditions. Once you've identified the problems you want to work on, your therapist will encourage you to share your thoughts about them. This may include observing what you tell yourself about an experience (your "self-talk"), your interpretation of the meaning of a situation, and your beliefs about yourself, other people and events. Your therapist may suggest that you keep a journal of your thoughts.
Identify negative or inaccurate thinking. To help you recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to your problem, your therapist may ask you to pay attention to your physical, emotional and behavioral responses in different situations.
Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Your therapist will likely encourage you to ask yourself whether your view of a situation is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of what's going on. This step can be difficult. You may have long-standing ways of thinking about your life and yourself. With practice, helpful thinking and behavior patterns will become a habit and won't take as much effort.
Your therapist's approach will depend on your particular situation and preferences. Your therapist may combine cognitive behavioral therapy with another therapeutic approach — for example, interpersonal therapy, which focuses on your relationships with other people.
Length of psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally considered short-term therapy — about 10 to 20 sessions. You and your therapist can discuss how many sessions may be right for you. Factors to consider include:
a) The type of disorder or situation
b) The severity of your symptoms
c) How long you have had your symptoms or have been dealing with your situation
d) How quickly you make progress
e) How much stress you're experiencing
f) How much support you receive from family members and other people
Cognitive behavioral therapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away, but it can give you the power to cope with your situation in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life (High Self-Esteem).
Getting the most out of cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy isn't effective for everyone, but you can take steps to get the most out of your therapy and help make it a success.
Approach therapy as a partnership. Therapy is most effective when you're an active participant and share in decision-making. Make sure you and your therapist agree about the major issues and how to tackle them. Together, you can set goals and assess progress over time.
Be open and honest. Success with therapy depends on your willingness to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and on being open to new insights and ways of doing things. If you're reluctant to talk about certain things because of painful emotions, embarrassment or fears about your therapist's reaction, let your therapist know about your reservations.
Stick to your treatment plan, give yourself plenty of time. If you feel down or lack motivation, it may be tempting to skip therapy sessions. But doing so can disrupt your progress. You must attend all sessions and give some thought to what you want to discuss.
Don't expect instant results. Working on emotional issues can be painful and often requires hard work. It's not uncommon to feel worse during the initial part of therapy as you begin to confront past and current conflicts. You may need several sessions before you begin to see improvement.
Do your homework between sessions. If your therapist asks you to read, keep a journal or do other activities outside of your regular therapy sessions, follow through. Doing these homework assignments will help you apply what you've learned in the therapy sessions.
If therapy isn't helping, talk to your therapist. If you don't feel that you're benefiting from cognitive behavioral therapy after several sessions, talk to your therapist about it. You and your therapist may decide to make some changes or try a different approach as needed.