Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Let’s Talk about CBT

Cognitive Behavior Therapy sounds a little intimidating, doesn’t it?

It is in fact a very effective and common therapy model that has helped countless people deal with issues in their lives.

Truth be told, you may have a lot of misconceptions about therapy, CBT, and even therapists.

If you have shied away from seeing a counselor because of any of these, stick around, you may be surprised at what you learn!

What is CBT?

So, let’s start with understanding cognitive behavior therapy and its role in treating mental illness or emotional distress.

CBT is based on the premise that what you think shapes your behaviors and feelings, rather than events, situations or other people.

How can this benefit you?

Well, for starters this type of therapy allows you to change the way you feel regardless of the situations around you, which can be a major breakthrough for many people.

Common Misconceptions

When you think about counseling, therapy, or cognitive behavior therapy, what images or internal dialogue do you engage in?

While getting help for mental illness should never be trivialized, it is also something you should not demonize.

Here are a few common myths surrounding mental health assistance.

  • New Age- if you have watched very many movies you have probably seen therapists depicted as new age cheerleaders who only focus on positive self-affirmations and never really deal with serious issues.
  • Serious- there is a common misconception that only severe mental illness requires the assistance of a therapist.  The truth is you do not need to have a diagnosis of a serious psychological disorder to benefit from counseling.
  • Friends- what do you need counseling for if you have good friends to talk to? Social support is definitely necessary and helpful, but your friends may not have the tools you need to deal with cognitive, emotional or behavioral issues.
  • Money- There are actually several misconceptions about money and therapy. Some believe counseling is super expensive while others believe therapists are only in it for the money. Neither belief is the norm, though there are exceptions to every rule.
  • Lame- have you been told that only weak-minded or lame individuals need any kind of help. You wouldn’t think that someone who sought medical attention for a disease or broken arm was lame and the same is true for counseling.

Sample Therapist-Client Dialogue

What can you expect to talk about when undergoing cognitive behavior therapy?

This will vary with each unique individual and each particular situation, however there is a common theme that runs through every session and that is the practice of changing how you think (cognitive) in order to alter your behavior.


Therapist: “I see you have brought your journal, is there a situation you would like to talk about?”

Client: “Yesterday I had a really bad day after lunch.”

Therapist: “What happened?”

Client: “I was having lunch at the diner down the street, when I noticed my neighbor walk in. I threw up my hand to wave hello and yet he walked on by.”

Therapist: “So you assumed what?”

Client: “I figured he really didn’t like me and would rather avoid a conversation.”

Therapist: “Which made you feel?”

Client: “Unlikeable, worthless and useless.”

Therapist: “What did do next?”

Client: “Returned home feeling kind of down, and avoided people for the rest of the day especially my neighbor.”

Therapist: “What are some other explanations for your neighbor’s behavior, based on what you have learned in our sessions?”

Client: “Maybe, something difficult is going on in his own life? Or he simply didn’t notice me sitting there since I didn’t actually say anything.”

Therapist: “With the last explanation what would you have done differently?”

Client: “Called my neighbor when I got home, or stopped by to see if everything was okay.”

Therapist: “In that scenario how would you have felt?”

Client: “Friendly, helpful and useful.”

Five Areas

As you can see from the above scenario thoughts can definitely affect actions, which is the premise of cognitive behavior therapy.  The overreaching goal is to learn ways to alter the negative thought process, which results in depression, anxiety or other emotions.

  • Situation
  • Thoughts (negative)
  • Emotions (sadness, depression)
  • Physical Symptoms- (nausea, stomach ache)
  • Behavior (avoidance)

When you learn to change the initial thought process, rather than automatically assuming the very worst, you can change every resulting feeling and action. Positive thought results in happier emotions, no physical symptoms and positive behavior.

Work Involved

Working closely with your therapist or counselor, you will begin to learn how to break each problem or situation down to its basic parts. 

During the process, you will probably be asked to keep a journal that records the five areas mentioned above: situation, thoughts, emotions, physical reaction and finally what action you took or did not take.

Next, you will look at your thoughts and actions and determine some ways to begin altering your thought process.

Of course, you have to understand that this phase is really the easy part; putting what you learn into practice is where things tend to get tougher. 

With that in mind, your counselor will assign you “homework”.

At home, you will be asked to take an upsetting thought and question its validity.

Take it apart, examine the thoughts and emotions and then replace them with a positive alternative.

During this process it is important that your realize you are about to perform an action, based on negative thoughts and emotions that will make you feel worse and not better.

Overall, the key is to interrupt the thoughts that result in negative emotion, physical reaction and actions.

Why Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

CBT is utilized to treat a broad array of issues from simple anxiety to more severe mental illness and is the first treatment option of many therapists, counselors and psychologists. One reason it is first on the list is the relative short duration; most cognitive behavior therapies are complete within 16 weeks or less.

Cognitive behavior therapy is also very popular because it can be used to deal with narrower specific problems. It can be helpful to:

  • Prevent relapse of mental illness
  • Manage strong emotions such as anger
  • Cope with grief
  • Coping mechanism for stressful situations
  • Cope with chronic illnesses such as cancer or chronic fatigue

Effectiveness of CBT

How effective is CBT? According to research, it is the most effective treatment option for conditions in which depression or anxiety are the main issue. In fact, cognitive behavior therapy can be as effective as prescription antidepressants!

Treatable Conditions

Cognitive behavior therapy is practical for a host of mental illness related problems as well as depression or anxiety so listing them all would be difficult. That being said here are a few of the most common issues where CBT is highly effective:

  • Phobias
  • Eating Disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Personality Disorder
  • Bipolar
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Anxiety Disorders

Final Thoughts

Do you deal with issues in your life that cause you intense emotional distress, anxiety, or depression?

If so, you are not alone, millions of people seek help every year to deal with a myriad of problems.

Whether you struggle with depression or anxiety or one of a dozen other mental health problems, cognitive behavior therapy can be quite effective.

Why struggle for years dealing with depression or a mood disorder when there is a widely available and successful therapy solution out there?

It does not mean you are weak or “crazy” just that you need a little assistance dealing with issues.

If you have a cold, you take Vitamin C and rest; when you break a bone you go see a doctor; why should getting help with a mental illness be any different?

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