Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Overview

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was pioneered in the late 1950s as an alternative to psychodynamic therapy. It is a general term for a classification of therapies that emphasize the role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. It is a fairly manualized and technical approach to therapy that is aimed at reducing or suppressing a person’s symptoms as quickly and economically as possible.

There are a variety of approaches (e.g., Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) but most are based on the assumption that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things like people, situations, and events. CBT aims to help the client to uncover and alter distortions of thought or perception in order to change their behavior and emotional state.

CBT is a relatively brief or time-limited treatment. However, to prevent symptoms from returning, the client should continue to practice and develop the skills learned in CBT after the sessions have ended. Although the course of treatment for CBT is briefer, it may take months (or years) of practice to learn to identify, challenge, and reshape one’s negative thoughts.

Research studies indicate that CBT is effective. CBT lends itself to scientific study because it is time-limited and can be focused on specific, circumscribed goals with more readily measured outcomes. In addition, therapist interventions can be more easily standardized compared to psychodynamic therapy. It has been found to be effective for many conditions including the following:
  • depression
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • social phobia
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • panic disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • phobias
  • borderline personality disorder
  • addictions
  • insomnia
  • chronic pain
Who is Best Suited for CBT?
CBT is a good choice for people with the following abilities and interests:
  • the capacity for introspection
  • preference for a short-term, directive treatment
  • willingness to make ongoing efforts at self-analysis and at practicing coping skills during and beyond treatment
Click here to read brief clinical examples that help to illustrate CBT.