What is cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is a type of therapy used in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addictions, and other disorders. It is a short term therapy (meaning that you attend therapy sessions for approximately 6 months to a year) focused on problem solving, being practical, and meeting goals.

What it is that cognitive behavioral therapy essentially does is end a chain of negative thoughts, emotions and actions. Let’s look at an example of how this cycle works. An anxious student may have feelings of inadequacy when it comes to their school work. These thoughts and worries about not being competent, the fear of failure, and the overwhelming pressure may lead the student to procrastinate on an assignment. This action then leads the student to think up excuses for why the assignment isn’t done on time. The consequences of this action (being penalized, receiving lower marks etc.) will leave the student feeling even more inadequate and overwhelmed. These feelings then “confirm” the initial negative thoughts, and the cycle repeats.

CBT was first invented by the psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960s, upon noticing the above cycle; and how patients had many thoughts that led to destructive behaviour, but wouldn’t or couldn’t articulate them. He believed that it isn’t events that lead to any sort of negative behaviour, but the value and meaning we placed on the event (simply put, it’s the attitude we respond with that counts). CBT has only grown in popularity over the most recent decades, due to its effectiveness and practicality in identifying thoughts and behaviors so that they may be altered accordingly.

CBT helps anxiety patients by teaching them more about the disorder, giving the sufferer the tools needed to be able to understand their triggers; tracking progress; and teaching strategies to control thoughts, physical manifestations of anxiety, and behaviors.

Sessions are usually done once a week, for about an hour at a time. At the beginning of the therapy, certain issues will be discussed, and goals will be set. Unlike other therapies, which may try to delve into the past or become over-analytical, CBT allows the therapist and patient to decide together which topics should be discussed.

The patient speaks as freely as possible about the topics that come to mind, so that both patient and therapist can determine the thought processes and patterns that lead to negative emotions and behaviors. Once these automatic thoughts are understood, methods are put in place to alter them, and eventually eliminate anxiety.

The same is done with behavior – physical and emotional responses to these thoughts. For example, someone may overeat when feeling anxious or depressed. Once the sufferer can identify that binging is a symptom of unhealthy thought patterns, the action can be avoided and replaced with a healthier, more beneficial coping strategy.

Once the patient understands what cognitive behavioral therapy is, they can begin to apply it to all areas of their lives. The therapist and patient will determine “homework assignments” – little exercises and coping methods which are practised outside of therapy. Some of these include slowly but surely confronting some scenarios that cause anxiety; and keeping a diary of the thought-emotions-behavior cycle, and also as a means of tracking progress. Coping methods will also be decided upon and implemented into daily routine.

Remember to do your research carefully if cognitive behavioral therapy sounds as though it may be an option for you. The therapist you choose must be registered with a board, and regulated and licensed. Also take your time finding the right fit – someone you trust and are comfortable with. There is also an abundance of online information, and resources for CBT self – help methods as well.