What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

The simplest answer is that it is a form of psychological treatment that works with your thoughts (cognitions) and actions (behaviors) to solve common problems such as depression and anxiety. Since its development began in the 1960s, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has attempted to understand psychological problems in terms of causes and solutions that can be observed and studied by science. This has established CBT as the leading form of “evidence-based psychotherapy”, meaning that high quality scientific studies demonstrate its effectiveness.

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What is it like to participate in cognitive-behavioral therapy? In many ways CBT is like other psychotherapies in that you meet with a therapist (usually weekly) to discuss your problems and goals. Your experience in therapy will also be affected by the therapist’s personal style, and by the relationship you develop with him or her. It would be more accurate to refer to the cognitive-behavioral therapies (plural), in that many unique, but related therapies have evolved out of the general CBT approach and its supporting research. These include the Cognitive Therapy that many people equate with CBT, behavioral therapies such as Exposure Therapy or Communication Skills Training, and newer mindfulness-based therapies (focused on the benefits of carefully observing your own thoughts, feelings, and other inner experiences) such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). All of these therapies have in common being goal-focused and structured. This means that you and your therapist will set an agenda at the start of each session to make the best use of the time. You and your therapist will also agree on therapy homework at the end of the session, to test out and practice the ideas you develop together.