One of the most frequently used techniques in mental health treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. CBT is a form of talk therapy that addresses how our thoughts impact our emotional state which then directs our behaviors. It is used to treat a variety of problematic behaviors. Since the 1960s, the founder of CBT Dr. Aaron Beck began applying the tools and techniques with positive results.
There are several tools that CBT recommends to help bring about positive change. Two examples include:
- Relaxation and stress reduction techniques – Clients are taught progressive relaxation techniques which address how using positive imagery and deep breathing can help to ground oneself in their body and into the present moment instead of being stuck in negative thoughts. This can be helpful when trying to break out of behaviors that result from anxiety or phobias.
- Role-playing – The therapist will encourage the client to play out situations that tend to occur where the client becomes overwhelmed or struggles to communicate in the way they desire. This can be helpful for someone who struggles with self-confidence or anxiety.
Who CBT Can Help
A person struggling with depression can find relief in reframing their patterns of thinking in order to access the motivation to take behavioral steps that can gradually lessen their depressive state.
For someone suffering from anxiety, they could apply the CBT techniques to address the ways in which certain things trigger a spiral of anxious thoughts and learn ways in which to break these patterns. They can also apply relaxation techniques in order to practice being more present and grounded.
When healing an eating disorder, the structure of CBT can help to help break down the negative, all-consuming thoughts around food and body image. For example, a fear of eating ice cream with the thought that “I’ll gain 5 lbs if I eat this”, leads one to binge on the ice cream due to the shame of having any of it at all. When focusing on the power of the thoughts and the capacity to change them, the negative behavior can be avoided.
A common tool therapists will recommend is to use a thought journal to track how a certain thought impacted their emotional state and thus created a negative behavior. A client is encouraged to track throughout the day or at the end of the day, reflecting on certain interactions or scenarios and what lead to them and why.
Given the transition after the pandemic to virtual therapy, it is also a benefit that CBT can very easily translate to virtual therapy. The technique can be taught and explored in session, and then the client is encouraged to apply the tools outside of the session and report back progress and/or challenges. It is also intended as a short-term treatment, geared towards focusing on current problems versus processing the past.
Length of Treatment
Typically 20 sessions are recommended for CBT, but sometimes less will be sufficient to understand and practice the techniques.
Hopefully, this has provided some helpful information regarding CBT. If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to reach out.