Since the1960s, mental health professionals have used Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of “talk” therapy, as an effective tool in helping patients manage emotional challenges. Studies confirm CBT delivers positive therapeutic results much more quickly than traditional talk therapy.
According to the National Library of Medicine, CBT effectively treats depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders in people of all ages.
While some studies conclude CBT combined with antidepressants or other medications is the most effective treatment approach, others find CBT without antidepressants is as effective as antidepressants alone and provides a relapse rate of less than half that of patients treated with medications.
What is CBT?
Psychiatrist Aaron Beck founded CBT after he realized most of his patients had a running internal dialogue that governed much of their emotions and behaviors. Dr. Beck concluded our thoughts are often at the root of our feelings and subsequent actions rather than external factors. The word cognitive relates to conscious mental activity, such as thinking and reasoning, leading Dr. Beck to name the therapeutic process he founded cognitive behavioral therapy.
CBT addresses each patient’s internal thought processes, primarily focusing on "emotionally loaded" thoughts, helping them to identify negative thought patterns. Patients learn how negative thought patterns often drive unhealthy responses and how to reframe thinking patterns to initiate positive responses.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the core principles of CBT assume that psychological problems are based, in part, on the following:
- Faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
- Learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
Dr. Beck believed that, given the proper coping skills, people with psychological problems could learn to overcome negative thinking, successfully manage mental health conditions, and enjoy a higher quality of life.
How Does CBT Work?
Here's how CBT works.
- Assessment. The therapy typically begins with an assessment by a trained CBT therapist. During this assessment, the therapist and the client work together to identify the client's specific problems and the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with those problems.
- Collaboration. CBT is a collaborative process, and the therapist and client work together as a team. The therapist's role is to guide and facilitate the process while the client actively participates in identifying and addressing their issues.
- Identification of Negative Thought Patterns. CBT focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns contributing to emotional distress. Clients learn to recognize automatic negative thoughts, also known as cognitive distortions, and understand how these thoughts influence their feelings and behaviors.
- Cognitive Restructuring. Once negative thought patterns are identified, the therapist helps the client challenge and reframe these thoughts. Clients learn to replace irrational or unhelpful thoughts with more rational, balanced, and constructive ones.
- Behavioral Interventions. In addition to addressing cognitive patterns, CBT emphasizes behavioral changes. Clients are encouraged to experiment with new behaviors and coping strategies to help them manage their emotional and psychological difficulties more effectively.
- Homework and Self-Monitoring. CBT often involves homework assignments that help clients practice the skills they've learned in therapy in real-life situations. Clients may also be asked to keep records of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to understand their patterns better.
- Gradual Exposure. For issues like phobias or anxiety disorders, CBT may include a process of gradual exposure to the feared or anxiety-inducing situations. This helps clients confront and manage their fears in a controlled and supportive environment.
- Relapse Prevention. CBT often includes strategies for preventing relapse and maintaining the progress achieved during therapy. Clients learn to recognize warning signs and develop coping strategies to prevent a return of their symptoms.
- Empowerment and Self-Management. CBT aims to empower clients with the skills and knowledge they need to manage their mental health independently. The goal is for clients to become their own therapists, applying CBT techniques in their daily lives.
The Benefits of CBT
CBT is like traditional talk therapy in that patients work with a mental health counselor to identify and resolve issues preventing them from living their lives to the fullest. While conventional therapy is open-ended, sometimes continuing for years, CBT is a structured approach with a limited number of sessions. Typically, patients attend a 30-to-60-minute session for six to twenty sessions once a week or every other week.
The Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Guide describes CBT sessions as “present-focused and problem-specific.” The goal of the sessions is for the therapist and patient to work together to understand the root of the problem and to develop coping skills that enable the patient to respond to stressful situations in a healthy manner.
By equipping the patient with the tools they need to change negative thinking and behavioral patterns, the individual can successfully manage situations that have triggered past emotional problems.
The benefits of CBT also include the following:
- Enhances self-awareness, so it’s easier to move out of a negative mindset.
- Improves problem-solving skills.
- Gives the patient tools needed to face their fears rather than avoid them.
- Patients learn to manage intense emotions without becoming overwhelmed.
- Improves interpersonal relationships as patients learn to understand what drives their own motivations and behaviors and those of others.
- Provides everyday coping skills to manage stress better and potentially upsetting events or situations, which helps reduce depression and anxiety.
- Enhances motivation to embrace a healthy lifestyle, including a more nutritious diet, regular exercise, improved sleep patterns, and stress management practices.
- Improves the ability to cope with grief, loss, trauma, serious illness, chronic pain, or other physical health problems.
- Studies find CBT is often as effective as medication in treating some mental health disorders and is an excellent option for those who have not gotten symptom relief from antidepressants or cannot take medication.
- Meta-analyses of various studies support the effectiveness of CBT for treating a range of anxiety-related conditions, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.
- Reduces the risk of relapse. Studies find the coping skills patients learn during CBT improve symptoms and reduce the long-term risk of relapse and recurrence of common mental health problems like depression.
A wealth of scientific evidence backs the efficacy of CBT for treating mental health and substance use disorders. A recent paper published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research reviewed the use of CBT over the last fifty years and concluded the therapeutic approach is “more effective at treating depression than antidepressant medications.”
Can CBT Also Improve Brain Functionality?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) doesn't change your brain directly, but it helps you change your thoughts and feelings. Learning to think more positively and handle your emotions better can indirectly make your brain work better. Training your brain to be more helpful and less stressed can help you think and feel better in the long run.
CBT specifically helps the brain in the following ways:
- Brain Rewiring. CBT helps your brain change by teaching you to think and act in more positive and helpful ways.
- Happy Thoughts. CBT helps you replace negative thoughts with better ones, which can reduce stress and benefit your brain.
- Emotion Control. CBT teaches you how to manage your feelings, which can make your brain happier by reducing stress.
- Less Anxiety and Sadness. CBT reduces anxiety and sadness, affecting your brain's ability to think clearly and remember things.
- Stress Relief. CBT equips you with ways to deal with problems, reducing long-term stress that can hurt your brain.
- Smart Problem-Solving. CBT helps you become better at solving problems, making your brain work more efficiently.
- Take Care of Yourself. CBT empowers you to take better care of your mental health, which can lead to a healthier brain through good habits like exercise and stress management.
Our skilled staff at New England Medical Group tailors each therapeutic approach to meet the individual needs of our patients. Learn how CBT and other scientifically based techniques can help you overcome negative thought processes and behaviors preventing you from living your best life.