Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Developed by Dr. Aaron T. Beck
What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the term used for a group of
psychological treatments that are based on scientific evidence. These
treatments have been proven to be effective in treating many
Some people have an inaccurate view of what psychological therapy
is, perhaps because of the old-fashioned treatments shown on TV or in
the movies. For example, on TV, psychotherapy may seem to involve dream
interpretation or complex discussions of one's past childhood
experiences. This type of psychotherapy is outdated. In fact, very few
psychotherapists (e.g., psychologists, social workers, or
psychiatrists) use this type of treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is usually a short-term
treatment (i.e., often between 6-20 sessions) that focuses on teaching
clients specific skills. CBT is different from many other therapy
approaches by focusing on the ways that a person's cognitions (i.e.,
thoughts), emotions, and behaviors are connected and affect one another.
Because emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are all linked, CBT
approaches allow for therapists to intervene at different points in the
In cognitive therapy:
- The therapist and client work together with a
mutual understanding that the therapist has theoretical and technical
expertise, but the client is the expert on him- or herself.
- The therapist seeks to help the client discover that he/she is powerful and capable of choosing positive thoughts and behaviors.
- Treatment is often short-term. Clients
actively participate in treatment in and out of session. Homework
assignments often are included in therapy. The skills that are taught
in these therapies require practice.
- Treatment is goal-oriented to resolve present-day problems. Therapy involves working step-by-step to achieve goals.
- The therapist and client develop goals for therapy together, and track progress toward goals throughout the course of treatment.
In cognitive therapy, clients learn to:
- Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.
- Become aware of the ways in which thoughts can influence feelings in ways that sometimes are not helpful.
- Learn about thoughts that seem to occur automatically, without even realizing how they may affect emotions.
- Evaluate critically whether these "automatic" thoughts and assumptions are accurate, or perhaps biased.
- Develop the skills to notice, interrupt, and correct these biased thoughts independently.
The basis of cognitive therapy is that thoughts can influence
feelings, and that one's emotional response to a situation comes from
one's interpretation of that situation. An example is below.
Imagine experiencing the sensations of your heart racing and
shortness of breath. If these physical symptoms occurred while sitting
quietly on a park bench, they would likely be attributed to a medical
condition, such as a heart attack, may cause fearful and anxious
emotions. In contrast, if these physical symptoms occurred while
running on a treadmill, they likely would not be attributed to a medical
ailment, and may not lead to fear or anxiety. In short, different
interpretations of the same sensations could lead to entirely different
Cognitive therapy suggests that many of our emotions are due to
our thinking - i.e., the ways that we have perceived or interpreted our
environments. Sometimes these thoughts may be biased or distorted. For
instance, one might interpret an ambiguous phone message as suggesting
interpersonal rejection, or physical symptoms as suggesting a medical
disorder. Others may set unrealistic expectations for themselves, or
harbor pervasive concerns regarding their acceptance among others.
These types of thoughts can contribute to distorted, biased, or
illogical thinking processes that then affect feelings.