Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: how can it help?

Medically reviewed: 7, January 2024

Read Time:4 Minute

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment for mental health conditions. It is a combination of cognitive therapy, which can modify or eliminate your unwanted thoughts and beliefs, and behavioral therapy, which can help you to your change behavior in response to those thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the assumption that most unwanted thinking patterns and emotional and behavioral reactions are learned over a long period of time. The aim is to identify the thinking that is causing your unwanted feelings and behaviors and to learn to replace this thinking with more positive thoughts.

The duration of treatment typically spans from a minimum of 8 sessions to a maximum of 20 sessions.

Cognitive techniques (such as challenging negative thoughts) and behavioral techniques (such as exposure therapy that gradually desensitizes you to your phobia and relaxation techniques) are used to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression by changing your thoughts, beliefs and behavior.

The therapist does not focus on the events from your past (such as your childhood) but focuses on current difficulties at the present time. The therapist has the ability to impart to you a multitude of new skills and alternative methods for responding to various situations.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be utilized either as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication to address various psychological conditions and improve overall mental well-being. This depends on your condition and its severity.

Department of Health guidelines support cognitive behavioral therapy for conditions such as depressive disorders, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia, and chronic fatigue.

A number of professionals use CBT, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, counselors, and social workers. It is practiced by clinical psychologists within the NHS, although this is not available everywhere and tends to vary across the United States.

Are there advantages of a cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is effective in controlling the symptoms associated with certain mental health conditions.

Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy can be just as effective as medication with some conditions, such as anxiety and may provide long-term protection against relapse.

The main advantage of cognitive behavioral therapy over medication is that the symptoms are less likely to recur if you have learnt to understand your condition and you have learned techniques to help you cope.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be more effective than counseling for some people as it a more direct and practical way of solving a problem rather than just talking about it.

However, CBT does not suit everyone. You must be committed to tackling the problem and you must do your ‘homework’ between sessions.

What cognitive behavioral therapy is used for?

CBT aims to overcome anxiety largely through exposure and relaxation techniques. It is most effective when dealing with a specific problem.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) usually focuses on a type of behavioral therapy known as exposure and response therapy.

You are supportively encouraged to abstain from rituals and repetitive acts while in situations that arouse anxiety. For example, you may be progressively exposed to dirt but encouraged not to wash your hands. As you learn to modify your compulsive behavior, your anxiety levels should lessen.

Phobias and Panic Disorder

Phobias and panic disorder are also treated using exposure therapy. In a supportive environment, you will be gradually and repeatedly exposed to the object or situation that you fear, first in imagination and then in reality.

In this way, you are able to cope with a gradual approximation of the object or situation until you finally come into contact with it. As you become accustomed to the situation you lose your fear of it. You learn to confront the situation rather than fleeing in fear.

You will also be taught relaxation techniques to decrease your anxiety levels.

Post traumatic stress

Post- traumatic stress or PTSD (when stress results from a traumatic experience and lasts for a long time) can also be treated using cognitive behavioral therapy.

You will learn coping skills that change your thought processes about the traumatic event.

You will develop learning skills to cope with your anxiety and to manage negative thoughts, anger and stress. Exposure therapy, in a supportive environment will help you work through the trauma and gain control of the fear and distress.

You will also be taught relaxation techniques to decrease your anxiety levels.

Chronic fatigue

CBT also appears to be an effective treatment for adults with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) including myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and can aid physical functioning and energy levels.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for Depression

When treating depression (mild to severe), cognitive behavioral therapy can help you change negative ideas, unrealistic expectations and overly critical self- assessment that leads to, and maintains depression. CBT will help you recognize which problems are significant and which are not. It will help you develop positive life goals and a more positive self-perception.

Other conditions

Other conditions that cognitive behavioral therapy can help with include, anger, habits (such as facial tics), drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, relationship problems and sleep problems.

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