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What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Everyone seems to be talking about evidence-based practice and the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) these days…so I thought I would put together a post to review the basics of this form of treatment. CBT has become increasingly popular in recent years with both mental health consumers and treatment professionals. Because CBT is usually a short-term treatment option, it is often more affordable than some other therapeutic options. CBT is also empirically supported and has been shown to effectively help patients overcome a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.
CBT is a form of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps clients to understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.

CBT is generally focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior.

One major underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior. The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.

Many clients often experience thoughts or feelings that reinforce or compound beliefs which are not grounded in reality. Such beliefs can result in problematic behaviors that can affect numerous life areas, including family, social relationships, and work performance. As an example, an individual suffering from low self-esteem might experience negative thoughts about his or her own abilities or appearance. As a result of these negative thinking patterns, the individual might start avoiding social situations or miss important opportunities.

I often use CBT in some of my work with clients…I start by helping individuals who come to see me identify problematic beliefs. In this stage (also known as functional analysis), it is important to learn and identify how thoughts and feelings can contribute to maladaptive behaviorsThe process can be difficult, especially for patients who struggle with introspection, but it can ultimately lead to self-discovery and insight that are an essential part of the treatment process.

The second phase of CBT focuses on the actual behaviors that are contributing to the problem. Clients begin to learn and practice new skills that can then be put into use in real-world situations. Someone suffering from social anxiety might start by simply imagining himself in an anxiety-provoking social situation. Next, the client might start practicing conversations with friends, family and acquaintances. By progressively working toward a larger goal, the process seems less daunting and the goal seems easier to achieve.

In most cases, CBT is a helpful process that helps a person make incremental steps towards a behavior change.

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