Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: How Does CBT Work?

Therapy can be a game-changer for anyone who has experienced and is suffering from trauma, dealing with stress and anxiety, and more. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 75% of people who undergo psychotherapy have reported benefits such as improved thoughts and behaviors, fewer medical health problems, fewer sick days, and higher work satisfaction levels. 

One of the most popular types of therapy is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy commonly used to treat phobias, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders. CBT focuses on helping people identify destructive thoughts and behavioral patterns and replace them with more positive and productive ones.

If you’re wondering whether CBT can help you or your loved one, here’s what you need to know: 

What Are the Types of CBT?

Unlike other therapy approaches, CBT does not delve too deeply into the person’s life history or past trauma. Instead, it is mostly concerned with present events and the patient’s emotional state.

CBT uses a wide range of strategies to help people overcome their negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These include:

Rational emotive behavior therapy

This is an action-oriented approach that helps patients identify irrational or negative thoughts and beliefs that lead to behavioral or emotional problems. The goal is to create healthy thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors to enable the patient to build successful professional and personal relationships. 

Multimodal therapy

This type of strategy uses multiple approaches at once. The treatment focuses on the whole person rather than on particular symptoms. It addresses the patient’s different modalities — cognition, imagery, sensation, behavior, interpersonal relationships, and other biological or drug considerations.

Dialectical behavior therapy

As the name implies, this approach combines or integrates two opposites — acceptance and change. It aims to help the patient understand and accept difficult thoughts or feelings, learn skills to deal with them, and implement positive changes in their life. 

Cognitive therapy

This strategy helps the patient recognize and correct negative automatic thoughts that can take over and distort their view of reality. It aims to equip the patient with tools that they can use to manage specific life problems and improve their mood and outlook.

How Does CBT Work?

People who suffer from mental health conditions tend to engage in negative thoughts, including catastrophizing, over-generalizing, and thinking in black and white. CBT uses a cognitive model where a person’s thoughts — including the way they view themselves, other people, and their environment — significantly influence their emotions and actions.

The underlying principle behind CBT is that emotional and behavioral responses to one’s thoughts are learned, which means they can be changed or unlearned. Patients who undergo CBT will work with their therapist to learn how to challenge negative thinking and adopt more constructive problem-solving skills.

The therapist may use the following techniques:

  • Conduct guided discovery and questioning
  • Ask the patient to keep a journal to record their thoughts and review them later
  • Encourage the patient to engage in constructive and compassionate self-talk
  • Role-play social interactions 
  • Help the patient confront anxiety-inducing situations
  • Practice problem-solving methods and coping mechanisms
  • Schedule a rewarding activity that the patient can do daily to improve their mood, such as going on a picnic or buying fresh flowers

These strategies are designed to help the patient become more aware of their unhelpful thoughts, gain a rational understanding of other people’s words and actions, and cope with triggers or difficult situations.

What Can You Expect During a CBT Session?

A person does not need to have a mental health condition to benefit from CBT. It’s an effective tool for anyone who wants to learn how to deal with stressful events or situations.

CBT may be done one-on-one or in groups. It’s generally a short-term treatment, ranging from 5 to 20 sessions. The therapist will determine how many sessions are right for the patient after considering the following factors:

  • The type of situation or disorder
  • The severity of their symptoms
  • How long they’ve been dealing with their situation or symptoms
  • Their stress levels
  • The speed of their progress
  • Their support system

During the session, the therapist will encourage the patient to discuss their thoughts and feelings so they can be more confident to apply what they learned in real-world situations. 

Get the Help You Need Today

If you believe that CBT can help relieve the symptoms you’re experiencing, finding a good psychotherapist is your first step. The right therapist has the experience, skills, and tools to help you make positive changes in your life.

Stanley E. Wipfli is a licensed therapist with extensive training and experience. He is available for in-person therapy in San Francisco and virtual counseling throughout California. Contact Stanley now for a free and confidential 15-minute consultation.