What is CBT therapy

So… what is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely used practice for improving mental health. It is the therapy approach that has been most researched, having become “evidence-based” because there is so much evidence that it works!

Who developed CBT? CBT is the result of the combination of behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy.

  • The pioneers of behavior therapy in the USA include B. F. Skinner (in the 1950’s) as well as Pavlov, Watson, and Hull.
  • The foundation of cognitive therapy was established by Aaron T. Beck (in the 1960's).

So what is the main focus of CBT? Overall, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns of thinking, behaving, and managing emotions (also called emotional regulation).

The interesting thing is that there is no actual ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ but rather an apporach that combines cognitive and behavioral therapies. These two ways of working with patients came together because of the excellent fit between them. Behavior therapy focuses on helping us understand how our behaviors can lead into changes in how we are feeling and cognitive therapy shows us that much of what we feel is determined by what we think.

  • Cognitive therapists work with the person to challenge thinking errors by pointing out alternative ways of looking at things and in doing so, change how we feel about that. Research has shown that cognitive therapy can be as effective as medication in the long-term treatment of depression. Some of the most common thinking errors to be challenged are: personalization (assuming that negative events are connected to us), selective abstraction (focusing only on negative aspects of a situation), dichotomous thinking (not being able to see more than two choices in a situation), magnifying or minimizing events (distorting importance of events), overgeneralization (making big assumptions based on one event), control fallacy (being a victim of fate of feeling guilty of other people’s pain), fallacy of fairness (believing that the world is fair and owes us fairness), and blaming (blaming others for our problems).
  • Behavior therapy works on increasing positive or socially reinforcing activities. It does so by looking at what the person does and then increasing chances for positive experiences. The techniques most commonly used are: keeping log of daily activities, scheduling weekly activities, role playing in session, and setting up rewards for positive behaviors (behavior modification).

    If you seek further understanding, you may want to read any of these books:

  • Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
  • Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: New American Library.
  • Anthony, M and Roemer, L. (2001). Behavioral Therapy. American Psychological Association.
  • Pryor, K. (1984). Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.