Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) assists clients improve maladaptive thought patterns that interfere with healthy behaviors and spark unsettling emotions. The underlying theory is that by correcting thoughts the behaviors and emotions will improve.
CBT focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Accordingly, the therapeutic approach is to help clients recognize negative or unhelpful thought and behavior patterns, exploring ways that emotions and thoughts impact actions. Generally, once unhelpful patterns are recognized, clients can reframe thoughts in more positive and helpful ways through cognitive reappraisal.
CBT differs from many traditional talk therapies in that it doesn’t focus on the past.
Historical Background of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The modern roots of CBT can be traced to the development of behavior therapy in the early 20th century, the development of cognitive therapy in the 1960s, and the subsequent merging of the two.
Behavior therapy was largely based on the work of John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning and B.F. Skinner’s work on operant conditioning.
During the 1960’s, behaviorism began to slip in popularity. The involvement of cognitive functions were ignored by the behavior theories. The work of Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck strongly influenced cognitive therapies.
Core Principles Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking (cognitive component).
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior (behavioral conditioning component).
- People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping, thereby relieving the severity of symptoms and becoming more effective in living their lives.
An Example of Thought, Emotion, and Behavior
We respond to events emotionally and cognitively. First, an arousal of a small feeling affect generates thoughts that assign meaning to the arousal. Then, the thoughts, in turn, enhance or regulate the feeling. Lastly, we respond with a behavior.
For example, you are driving through your neighborhood and see your neighbor walking their dog. You enthusiastically wave, but your neighbor, who is looking directly at you, turns a way without acknowledging your wave. Consequently, the external incident naturally sparks a small prick of shame. Then the thoughts arrive.
Our emotional lives are constantly peppered with the thought, emotion, behavioral feedback loops. When they diverge from reality, they can create unhealthy reactions. Above all, cognitive behavioral therapy helps clients get thoughts back in tune with their internal feedback loops to encourage productive behavior.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is Used to Treat a Variety of Psychological and Behavioral Problems
Notably, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.
”Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life” (APA, 2017).
Scott Strossel wrote in his comprehensive book on anxiety that “many studies are now finding that cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the safest and most effective treatment for many forms of depression and anxiety disorders” (2015, location 882).
CBT treatments involves a two prong approach. First is changing maladaptive thinking patterns; the second is changing maladaptive behavior patterns.
Changing Thinking Patterns
Changing maladaptive thinking patterns is a foundational goal of CBT. This is often accomplished by:
- Recognizing distorted thinking that magnifies problems, and then reevaluating the thoughts against reality.
- Identifying patterns and themes of harmful thoughts and establishing healthier responses.
- Using emotion regulatory strategies to sooth emotions when overwhelmed.
- Building confidence in one’s own abilities to manage emotional situations.
Changing Emotional Patterns
The behavioral facet of CBT works on practical behaviors to build new habits. This is accomplished by:
- Learning to face fears instead of avoiding them.
- Role playing to practice healthy responses. to potentially problematic interactions with others.
- Learning strategies such as mindful breathing to relax one’s body during stressful events.
- Learning how to set and achieve realistic goals.
- Learning problem solving techniques.
Changing Behavior Patterns
Problem solving in CBT involves five steps:
- Identifying a problem
- Generating a list of possible solutions
- Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each possible solution
- Choosing a solution to implement
- Implementing the solution
Books on Cognitive Behavior Therapy
A Few Words By Psychology Fanatic
Cognitive behavioral therapy incorporates many practical real-life solutions to common problems impacting our lives. CBT has scientific support and does not require long treatment plans. In conclusion, CBT is a low cost, empirically supported therapy that is worthy of consideration as a treatment for many life and emotional problems.
(2017) What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? APA. Published 7-2017, accessed 9-25-2021.
Cherry, K. (2018) What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Verywellmind. Published 8-7-2021. Accessed 9-28-2021.
Davis, K. (2018) How does cognitive behavioral therapy work? Medical News Today
Raypole, C. (2019). How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Rewire Your Thoughts. Healthline. Published 6-26-2019. Accessed 9-28-2019.
Stossel, S. (2015). My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Vintage; Reprint edition