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What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Hello and welcome to the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a highly effective, evidence-based therapy that helps develop awareness of unhelpful, negative types of thinking and replaces them with positive, adaptive patterns of thought.

This CBT blog post is the first of many to expect on what type of treatment a mental health therapist might use to help you feel better and what you can expect through the process. Every therapist is as unique as the people they treat. When preparing yourself to put your personal experiences in the hands of someone new.

How CBT Helps:

Research shows that increasing awareness of negative thinking helps to adapt thinking (reframing) by challenging the thoughts themselves. When thoughts have been used for many months or years, they are considered "automatic."

Negative automatic thoughts often cause the individual to react with emotion-based responses rather than thoughtful, fact-based responses.

A quick rundown of what CBT is and does is found here:

  • Bringing awareness to unhelpful, negative thoughts

  • Using "evidence" or facts to decide whether the thought is helpful or unhelpful

  • Choosing an adaptive, more positive and helpful thought

  • Practicing the thought-choice pattern until new, adaptive, positive thoughts are more automatic than unhelpful, negative ones

  • Adaptively using positive, wise thinking to recognize both fact and emotion in future situations and adapt accordingly

Why CBT?

Many providers use CBT because it is considered a "brief therapy" in certain situations. Therefore, limited sessions lead to maximum effectiveness when appropriately applied.

Because of the high effectiveness of helping the client learn to identify and adapt to/cope with life issues, CBT is considered one of the most-used therapies.

Most importantly, the effectiveness of CBT relies on it being provided in a structured method. This means that following the homework assignments in order, at the pace the student can digest the material.

Digesting it quickly versus slowly is not as important as how well the information is understood. For some who have been taught to listen to their emotions in childhood and respond in an adaptive, balanced way, they will digest the information quickly and may possibly apply it without much struggle.

For some who were taught in a prior relationship, whether childhood or adult, to ignore their feelings or opinions, learning and using the material may take more time to practice because the tools are considered much newer. This is all subject to the individual taking the course. There are no "supposed to's" here. Only what is. That is the first lesson of CBT. To experience your learning through a lens of curiosity rather than judgment and achievement. This is where regular provider appointments help greatly.

Who benefits from CBT?

CBT is a useful tool in learning to adapt and adjust to life's emotional challenges. Students t may benefit from this course if they need to:

  • Manage symptoms of mental illness

  • Maintain growth or treatment previously provided

  • Learn adaptive coping methods for stressful life transitions

  • Learn to manage emotional reactions

  • Learn to communicate more effectively

  • Improve relationship connections

  • Work through grief or loss

  • Process emotional trauma caused by abuse, violence, or significant life event

If a person has been diagnosed with illnesses such as, but not limited to, any of the following, they may benefit from CBT with a licensed provider:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Phobias

  • PTSD

  • Sleep disorders

  • Eating disorders

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Substance use disorders

  • Bipolar disorders

  • Schizophrenia

  • Sexual disorders

What are the Risks of CBT?

Research shows that CBT has limited risk. However, clients may have emotional discomfort at times because the coursework directs the client to draw attention to negative thoughts and feelings, one may feel tearful, irritable, or angry during therapy.

Feeling physically, emotionally, or mentally tired is also common. Some clients are discouraged from engaging in certain forms of CBT, such as exposure therapy, without a professional to guide them.

For example, if a client has a fear of spiders, the student is discouraged from interacting with spiders. Other discouragements apply with phobias and/or more intense treatments and are not considered appropriate to try without professional support.

Appointments with a licensed mental health therapist, psychiatrist, or other appropriately trained professional will minimize any risks and discomfort. This is because trained professionals should be able to help a student to identify both positive and negative thoughts without the emotional distraction that the student experiences. Support such as this is significant in helping the student to overcome fears and strong negative thoughts or emotions.

Over time, using the course materials and direction from a trained professional will ideally lead to the student learning and frequently practicing healthy, adaptive skills such as relaxation, coping, building emotion regulation, stress reduction, and effective boundary-setting.

DIY CBT Practice on Your Own

As a Clinical Social Worker for the past seven years, I've seen how reframing perspective has benefited myself and those I've worked alongside. I've seen firsthand the substantial improvement of those who have the grit that it takes to practice, practice, practice. They practice when their days are going well so that when their days are tough, reframing takes place almost automatically. Pretty clunky at first. Awkward and distracting. Then, over time, I've seen the weight of worry and anxiety lift from their shoulders. Their faces have life again. They are pursuing happiness every day. And finding it. These are the transformations that take some people months, and others a year or more.

If you're ready to take a stab at it on your own, here are a few sample worksheets of the CBT course that is coming soon to the Tides Therapy Community Outreach page! Be sure to check back soon as the course should be up and running by September 15, 2022!

Good luck and know that I believe in you!


CBT Homework Blank Worksheets

Thought Record Blank
Download PDF • 19KB
Problem Discovery Blank
Download PDF • 24KB



More therapist recommended tools to help you get on track and stay on track

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