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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT?

What is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

A type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). During a limited number of sessions, you work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist). The purpose of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to help you become aware of inaccurate or negative beliefs so that you can respond to challenging situations more effectively.

When used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful in treating mental health disorders, such as depression, PTSD, and eating disorders. CBT, however, is not useful for everyone.

Generally, anybody who needs to learn how to deal with stressful life situations can take advantage of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There are a number of techniques and approaches that are used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Some of these include structured psychotherapy and self-help methods.

Therapy involving CBT includes a number of special approaches, such as:

  • Cognitive therapy. In this method, inaccurate or distorted thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors are identified and modified.

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Among the strategies included in this program are emotional regulation strategies and mindfulness tactics.

  • Multimodal therapy. In order to treat psychological disorders, one must consider seven different but related factors: behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug/biological aspects.

  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). This involves identifying irrational beliefs, challenging them, and finally recognizing and changing them.

Regardless of the approach, each type of cognitive-behavioral therapy takes, all seek to resolve the psychological distress caused by underlying thoughts.

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is Done

There is a wide range of issues that can be treated through cognitive-behavioral therapy. People often prefer this type of therapy because it helps them identify and cope with specific problems effectively. Compared to other types of therapy, it has fewer sessions and is more structured.

An important aspect of CBT is addressing emotional challenges. As an example, it may help you deal with:

  • Management of mental illness symptoms

  • Keeping mental illness symptoms from relapsing

  • Treating mental illness rather than medication if medication isn't an option

  • Preparing you for stressful situations by learning coping methods

  • Developing techniques for managing emotions

  • Finding better ways of communicating and resolving relationship conflicts

  • Grieving or losing a loved one

  • Recovering from emotional trauma due to either abuse or violence

  • Managing a medical illness

  • Management of chronic physical symptoms

There are a number of mental illnesses that can be helped by CBT, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Phobias

  • PTSD

  • Bipolar disorders

  • Schizophrenia

  • Substance use disorders

  • Sleep disorders

  • Eating disorders

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Sexual disorders

A combination of CBT and other treatments, such as antidepressants or other medications, may be most effective in some cases.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Activities

Based on their symptoms and circumstances, people's CBT can take a variety of forms. In general, a person might:

  • Attend one-on-one or group sessions regularly, or a combination of both

  • Regularly receive feedback

  • Participate in role-playing exercises

  • Find out how to calm your body and mind

  • Gradually get more and more exposed to what they're afraid of

  • Complete homework assignments

  • Journal your cognitive-behavioral progress

  • Promote positive behavioral changes and growth by practicing these skills

What Are the Pros and Cons of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Through cognitive and behavioral therapy, people can gain a better understanding of their emotions, thoughts, and behavior. This leads to healthier lifestyle choices. Even though CBT does not make stressful situations disappear, it can help you deal with them more positively and feel more at ease.

Depending on your circumstances, you may feel slightly upset during therapy. The reason is that CBT can make you explore painful feelings and emotions. In challenging sessions, you may feel angry, upset, or even cry. In addition, you may feel physically exhausted. However, cognitive behavior therapy is rarely harmful.

If you need help working through these feelings, you can talk to your therapist. Eventually, it’s possible to overcome negative emotions through new skills.

How Do I Choose a Therapist?

Among the various types of therapists are medical doctors (psychiatrists who can prescribe medication), psychiatric nurses, psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. Whether it's your doctor, a family member, or a friend, ask people you trust for their referrals. Also, look for psychologists online through your state's psychological association -- this is the site for the Delaware Psychological Association.

When looking for a therapist, be sure they're a licensed mental health professional and that they specialize in your area of concern, such as eating disorders, depression, marriage, family, anxiety, or PTSD. In addition, if you have health insurance, check whether it covers psychotherapy. In some health plans, therapy sessions are only covered for a limited number of sessions per year. Discuss fees and payment options with your therapist.

A therapist's website usually lists the conditions and issues he or she treats. Prior to selecting a therapist, call, text, or email the office if you have questions.

What Can You Expect During Your First Session?

During your first session, your therapist will ask you about your concerns and what you hope to accomplish. To gain a deeper understanding of your situation, the therapist may ask about your current and past physical and emotional health. If other treatments, such as medications, are appropriate, your therapist will discuss that with you.

In addition to interviewing your therapist at the first session, this is a chance for you to determine if you are a good match.

You should be aware of:

  • Aspects of his or her approach

  • Choosing the right therapy for you

  • What you hope to accomplish during your treatment

  • Duration of each session

  • How many therapy sessions may you require

In order to determine the best course of action, your therapist may need to spend several sessions getting to know you and understanding your concerns. You may want to try another therapist if the first one you see isn't comfortable. A good fit between you and your therapist is crucial for gaining the most benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.


CBT is a type of psychotherapy. By changing perceptions, people are able to influence their behavior and mood in a beneficial way.

Among the many mental health conditions, CBT can address are depression, chronic pain, and PTSD. However, in order to identify goals and expected outcomes, a counselor and client work together. In order to benefit from therapy, clients must actively participate.

A qualified CBT professional should be consulted by anyone contemplating CBT. Your doctor can refer you to a local CBT specialist. Or, you can contact Delaware Psychological Services by calling us at 302-703-6332

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