How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Change Your Harmful Patterns
Although the idea of seeing a therapist may still come with a stigma in the United States, many Americans are realizing that participating in psychotherapy—also known as “talk therapy”— can be an extremely valuable process that may allow for significant life improvement. While there are many different theories and methodologies used by skilled therapists, cognitive behavioral therapy may be one of the most accessible (and arguably, one of the most effective). Although its concept is rather simple, the results experienced by patients are often life-changing.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Like many other types of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychological treatment conducted between patient and trained therapist. The foundation of CBT is that psychological issues may stem (at least in part) from unhelpful or harmful thinking patterns and learned patterns of detrimental behavior. The main idea of CBT is that when someone is able to change their unhealthy thought patterns, their harmful behaviors will also change—and their life will drastically improve as a result.
In CBT sessions, the patient and therapist work together to identify unhealthy thought patterns and discover how those patterns may lead to self-destructive actions or harmful beliefs. Then, they will work together to create healthier, more constructive thought patterns to replace those negative thoughts and facilitate improved behaviors. This type of therapy is goal-oriented, meaning that the therapist and patient develop goals to overcome daily challenges; progress is tracked throughout these sessions.
CBT is thought of as a short-term treatment option. As the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies explains, patients will typically attend anywhere from six to 20 sessions, during which they learn specific skills they can then utilize and come back to after the therapy sessions end. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that CBT allows patients to recognize and control their thinking, maintain a sense of confidence and self-control over their behavior, and learn the coping skills that can transfer into all areas of life.
According to the American Psychological Association, research studies have found that CBT can vastly improve one’s quality of life and overall functioning. Some studies have shown that CBT can often be just as effective as (or sometimes more effective than, depending on specific factors or a person’s particular struggles) other forms of psychological therapy and even psychiatric medications.
Understanding the Benefits and Uses of CBT
One distinct benefit of CBT is that it may quickly produce desired results. In many cases, it may be used to swiftly identify the unhealthy thought patterns that contribute to destructive behaviors. CBT, at its core, is designed to be a psychological treatment that can facilitate results in a relatively short amount of time. This type of therapy also allows patients to take an active role in their treatment through “homework” exercises. In this way, it empowers people to control their own reality by shaping their way of thinking and behaving, even after therapy sessions have ended.
Another advantage of CBT is that it’s incredibly versatile. According to the Mayo Clinic, CBT may be successfully used to treat a vast number of mental health conditions. These conditions include depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that CBT may also be a welcome option for those who may be dealing with issues like low self-esteem, harmful relationship patterns, and even sleep disorders.
How to assess whether CBT is right for you
Many patients are encouraged to pursue CBT by a physician or another trusted presence in their lives. Some people decide on their own that CBT could be beneficial to them. If you have determined that cognitive behavioral therapy might be a viable way for you to potentially manage the symptoms of a mental health disorder or work through unhealthy patterns in your life, it’s essential to find a warm and skilled therapist to guide you through this process. You may obtain a referral from a physician, a recommendation from a friend, or a name from a health insurance plan or counseling service. How ever you may find them, just make sure the therapist you choose has experience in cognitive behavioral therapy.
In advance of your first appointment, it’s important to talk to your therapist about the specific issues you’re facing or any concerns you may have. This can serve as an excellent starting point for your first session or help your therapist to determine whether another therapeutic option (or a combination of options) may serve you better.