What is CBT and the Techniques Used in Treatment?

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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and well-studied forms of psychotherapy. It is effective in treating a wide range of mental illnesses, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol and drug use problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Sleep disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual disorders

In addition to helping these ailments, CBT can also be used to treat physical conditions, such as chronic pain, tinnitus, and rheumatism. It can help relieve symptoms associated with these conditions. 

Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, CBT places responsibility on the individual while providing problem-solving skills. It also emphasizes focusing on the present rather than the past. Cognitive behavior therapy can help form clear ideas of one’s thoughts, attitudes, and expectations. 

The goal of CBT is to identify and change false beliefs. It helps individuals become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking to approach challenging situations more clearly and with effective responses. CBT may be a stand-alone treatment, or it can be used with other treatments, such as antidepressants or other medications. 

CBT and the Techniques Used in Treatment

To be successful in helping one gain better problem-solving skills, CBT includes:

  • Identifying specific problems or issues in your daily life
  • Becoming aware of unproductive thought patterns and how they can impact your life
  • Identifying negative thinking and reshaping it in a way that changes how you feel
  • Learning new behaviors and putting them into practice

Many CBT techniques can be employed to achieve these goals. The following are some of the most commonly used CBT therapies:

  • Journaling or thought recording: Writing is one of the best ways to reflect on thoughts and feelings. And writing can help an individual connect these thoughts and emotions with behavior. For example, when journaling as ais part of CBT therapy, a clinician may request that the individual list negative thoughts they have had, along with positive alternatives. The writing can also reflect a record of progress in the treatment.
  • Activity scheduling: When dealing with many conditions, individuals may avoid certain events or activities due to fear or anxiety. But following through and scheduling these activities can remove the burden of making a decision. It can also help to ensure the individual follows through with the activity. 
  • Cognitive restructuring: Also called reframing, cognitive restructuring requires a deep analysis of negative thoughts and patterns. The clinician may ask about thought processes in certain situations to help identify negative patterns. This process can help reframe the thoughts in a more positive or productive light. It can also help the individual identify cognitive distortions, such as  when they are:
    • Filtering or focusing on the negative and ignoring all positive aspects
    • Thinking in black-and-white rather than accepting there are a range of outcomes
    • Overgeneralizing or applying a broad conclusion based on an isolated instance
    • Jumping to conclusions
  • Behavioral experiments: Behavioral experiments are commonly used when CBT is sought for anxiety disorders that involve catastrophic thinking. It consists of the patient predicting the outcome of situations that make them nervous. Over time, they begin to realize that the predicted catastrophe never materialized. This process can lower anxiety in many situations.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is commonly used to help one confront irrational fears or phobias. It can also be used to treat those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The clinician slowly exposes one to the things that invoke fear or anxiety. They also offer guidance to help the individual cope with the situation. When done in small increments, exposure therapy can help the individual feel less vulnerable and more confident.
  • Role-playing: Role-playing can help the individual ‘act out’ different behaviors in difficult scenarios. By playing these potential situations, the individual can:
    • Improve their problem-solving skills
    • Gain familiarity or confidence with specific situations
    • Practice crucial social skills
    • Train one to be more assertive
    • Improve communication skills
  • Nightmare exposure and rescripting: This CBT technique is helpful for those suffering from nightmares. The nightmare is drawn out, allowing the individual and their therapist to explore a new script and emotion. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is similar to mindfulness. It teaches one to relax a group of muscles simultaneously, allowing the entire body to relax. In addition, it can help calm one’s nerves and soothe a worried or anxious mind. 
  • Relaxed breathing: Relaxed breathing is also similar to mindfulness. The technique brings regularity to one’s breathing. It allows the mind to engage in balanced thought processes that can result in effective and rational decisions. 

In addition to the CBT techniques listed here, there are many other methods that support cognitive behavioral therapy. During an initial session with a therapist, a patient may work to identify specific goals. 

Sessions often occur regularly, such as weekly or bi-weekly. During the time between sessions, the individual may have to work on identified tasks or items (such as a journal). 

CBT should be pursued with a licensed and certified professional. CBT practitioners may include

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioners
  • Social workers
  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Other mental health professionals

Individuals undergoing CBT often see results within a few weeks or a few months. Through CBT, a person may become better at addressing emotional challenges. It can help one to:

  • Manage symptoms of mental illness
  • Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Treat a mental illness when medications aren’t a good option
  • Learn techniques for coping with stressful situations
  • Identify ways to manage emotions and behaviors
  • Improve relationships by resolving conflicts and improving communication skills
  • Cope with loss or grief
  • Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
  • Cope with a medical illness
  • Manage chronic physical symptoms

To effectively treat any condition, CBT requires the individual’s commitment and initiative to effectively treat any condition. It often requires the patient to take part in work or problem-solving between sessions. There are few side effects, and treatment can last for only a few sessions or long-term, depending on the patient’s needs and preferences.  

If you think you may benefit from CBT, it is crucial to consult a qualified clinician and discuss the potential benefits of CBT.

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