Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common type of mental health counseling (psychotherapy). With cognitive behavioral therapy, you work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. By helping you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, cognitive behavioral therapy allows you to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very helpful tool in treating mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. But, not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition. It can be a very effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations.
Why it's done
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues. It's often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific concerns. It generally requires fewer sessions than other types of therapy and is done in a structured way that deals directly with specific challenges.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may help you:
Mental health conditions that may improve with cognitive behavioral therapy include:
In some cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective when it's combined with other treatments, such as antidepressants or other medications.
In general, there's little risk in cognitive behavioral therapy. Because it can explore painful feelings and experiences, however, you may feel emotionally uncomfortable at times. Because psychotherapy sometimes involves emotional discussions, you may cry, get upset or feel angry during a session. You may also feel physically drained after a challenging session. Your therapist is trained to help you cope with these feelings and emotions.
Some forms of psychotherapy, such as exposure therapy, may require you to confront situations you'd rather avoid — such as airplanes if you have a fear of flying. This can lead to temporary stress or anxiety. But the coping skills you learn should help you later on to manage and conquer negative feelings and fears.
How you prepare
You might decide on your own that you want to try cognitive behavioral therapy. Or a doctor, relative, friend, employer or someone else may suggest psychotherapy to you. Here's how to get started:
What you can expect
It's likely that you'll go to a therapist's office for cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. A therapist may have an office in a medical clinic, an office building or a home office. Therapy can also take place in a hospital if you've been admitted for treatment. You'll probably meet weekly with your therapist for one-on-one sessions that last 45 to 60 minutes. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be done in groups — either with family members or with people who have similar issues.
Your first therapy session
The first session is also an opportunity for you to interview your therapist to see if his or her approach and personality are going to work for you. Make sure you understand:
If you don't feel comfortable with the first psychotherapist you see, try someone else. Having a good "fit" with your therapist can help you get the most benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.
In general, conversations with your therapist are confidential. However, in certain situations a therapist may be required by law to report serious concerns to authorities — such as threatening to commit suicide, threatening to harm another person or admitting to abusing a child. Talk to your therapist about any worries you might have regarding confidentiality.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally focused on specific problems, using a goal-oriented approach. Each session may have a specific agenda to guide discussion. As you go through the cognitive behavioral therapy process, your therapist may ask you to do "homework" — activities, reading or practices that build on what you learn during your regular therapy sessions. Along with homework, your therapist will likely encourage you to apply what you're learning in your daily life.
Steps in cognitive behavioral therapy
Your therapist's approach will depend on your particular situation and preferences. Your therapist may combine cognitive behavioral therapy with another therapeutic approach — for example, interpersonal therapy, which focuses on your relationships with other people.
Length of psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away. But overall, it's an effective treatment. It can give you the power to cope with your situation in a healthy way and to feel better about yourself and your life.
Getting the most out of cognitive behavioral therapy
Last Updated: 2010-09-16
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