What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is used for many mental health issues.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term and goal-directed form of psychotherapy widely used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. CBT focuses on examining the relationship between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. 

The premise of CBT

CBT focuses on the effects that thoughts and beliefs have on people's behaviors and feelings. By changing the patterns of distorted thinking that people commonly experience with mental health issues, behavioral changes can be made and emotional issues can be resolved.

Automatic negative thoughts

One assumption of CBT is that people who struggle with emotional problems such as depression typically experience what are known as "automatic negative thoughts." Automatic negative thoughts arise spontaneously for someone, are often accepted as truth, and dampen one's mood.

CBT helps people catch their negative thoughts before they take hold of a situation, and gain an outside awareness of them. They are then able to evaluate such thinking for each situation they are in to determine whether these automatic negative thoughts accurately describe reality. People are encouraged to examine evidence in their lives that either supports or does not support whatever negative thought they have.

Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety impact someone's thought process, which can exacerbate a negative mood or anxiety. A more objective judgment of one's thoughts enables someone to determine whether their thoughts accurately reflect reality or are negatively biased.


Awareness and adjustments of automatic negative thoughts then lead to different behaviors and better feelings.

The process of CBT

CBT tends to be more structured than traditional psychodynamic therapy, where sessions are usually more open-ended. The CBT therapist is more active, focused and goal-oriented than most other therapists.

The therapist and client are collaborators, working toward mutually established goals. The process is clearly explained. CBT is also typically short-term. Unlike many other forms of therapy, CBT usually involves homework between sessions.

What disorders and problems has CBT been used for

CBT has been used for an array of problems and disorders. Most commonly, CBT is used for depression and anxiety. CBT is also used for anger, addiction problems, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disturbances

How does CBT work

CBT likely works in a number of ways. Most obviously, an increased awareness of and changed thought patterns and beliefs likely has a great deal to do with the resolution of behavioral and emotional problems.

CBT additionally helps people acquire new coping skills. Someone struggling with depression, for example, is taught to record and log their automatic negative thoughts, which is a coping skill they can use for life. Someone who is anxious and has always avoided things they have been afraid of may start confronting their fears and believing in themselves more in the process.

CBT, like any other form of therapy, can also be effective because of the relationship between client and therapist.

To have an active supporter and collaborator in one's life can be extremely helpful. A good therapist will provide a non-judgmental space where a client may be able to reveal secrets and share their struggles. This experience alone can be invaluable.

How to find a CBT therapist 

If you or someone you know is interested in seeing a CBT therapist, the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists has a directory of certified CBT therapists.

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