What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

In many instances, health conditions can be treated through straightforward medical means, such as antibiotics or surgery. In other cases, such as when patients are dealing with loss, homesickness, or even mental illnesses, many doctors will recommend psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a method of treatment for mental disorders and other diseases through psychological means rather than traditional medical means. It is also what many individuals are thinking of when they say 'going to therapy' and imagine lying on a couch, although the latter is not always a reality.

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Psychotherapy, of course, is quite the umbrella term and there are many different types of it. Arguably the most effective and perhaps the most popularly practiced is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Though it is common among psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals, many others do not understand precisely what CBT is. Start reading to learn from the basic definition of cognitive behavioral therapy to its primary goal and where homework comes into play.

The Basics Of CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy, as mentioned, is a type of psychotherapy. CBT is very much based on the cognitive model of emotional response as well as education and has a significant structure to each session. It is also brief and quite a bit more time-limited, unlike other forms of treatment for mental illnesses, such as psychoanalysis.

In CBT, a patient will work with a mental health professional, such as a psychotherapist or mental health counselor, for treating conditions such as depression, an eating disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. The design of cognitive behavioral therapy is to foster a collaborative relationship between the therapist and patient. This collaboration helps hone the effectiveness of the treatment, so it better addresses the patient's situation and helps them get what they are looking for from their therapy.

What CBT Treats

As previously mentioned, CBT is quite effective at treating a variety of mental illnesses, including generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Others include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorders, sleeping disorder, as well as eating disorders.

At its core and aside from mental illnesses, cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely effective at dealing with emotional challenges or obstacles. Some of these CBT is adept at addressing include learning strategies for managing times of high stress, resolving conflicts, improving relationship communication skills, coping with grief and loss, overcoming emotional trauma such as abuse or neglect, and even coping with a physical illness.

Length Of Therapy

It is critical to note CBT is not an open-ended form of psychotherapy or other treatments for mental health. It is considered one of the most rapid forms with regards to the results it obtains. Although the exact numbers can vary slightly based on individual patients and their needs, the average number of formal sessions for an individual undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy is sixteen. Each session, on average, lasts about an hour or so. Of course, the sessions are designed to give the patient lasting tools and skills, often through the therapist's use of homework assignments. This is also why CBT can be so limited regarding formal sessions.

Inclusion Of Homework

The assignments a therapist can give their patient can be adapted based on the therapist's personal approach to CBT as well as the patient's needs and desires. Two popular general assignments, however, include the rating worksheet and fact or opinion checklist. The rating worksheet involves dividing a paper into six columns. The first column is for the distressing thought or situation, and the next column is for the rating of zero to one hundred percent of how much the thought causes anxiety, depression, or similar feelings. 

The following two columns are for the evidence for and the evidence against the situation being described. After this information is written down, the patient should attempt to come up with an alternative thought or response, write it down in the next column, and then write down the level of anxiety they feel after that alternative thought using the percentage scale. The fact or opinion checklist is simply writing down the distressing thoughts, taking a step back to think about it, and determining whether it is a fact or just an opinion, and checking off the corresponding box.

Identifying And Reshaping Negative Thinking

When it comes down to it, many mental illnesses, phobias, and other things cognitive behavioral therapy treats are the result of negative and faulty thinking. For instance, someone with anxiety may worry excessively about not having enough money for certain things such as groceries, clothes, or for an emergency fund, even when they have devised a budget and have money saved that would cover these costs. Someone with a social phobia may believe going into social situations, such as a bar, would cause something bad to occur. 

Someone who was abused or neglected may have thoughts of it being their fault or not being good enough. In all instances, CBT seeks to identify the thoughts causing the individual distress and uses the homework assignments and formal sessions to break the thoughts down, replace them with alternative thoughts, and essentially reshape the way the individual thinks about these sources of stress, anxiety, and distress.

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