How Does CBT Work?

Posted January 6, 2021

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing how a client thinks and behaves from negative to more positive. Used alone or in conjunction with other therapies, CBT can help address many issues, including insomnia, anxiety, phobias, trauma, and relationship problems such as poor communication. CBT’s premise is that the problems we face in our day to day lives result from our flawed thought patterns and behaviors. When we intentionally focus on more positive, healthier cognition, we reduce the stress that we feel. CBT therapists teach clients to identify and replace negative thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones.

Who Can Benefit From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Clients who get the best results from cognitive behavioral therapy are looking to make substantial changes in their thinking and behavior. Clients who are looking for quick solutions to specific problems report good results with CBT. If you are interested in more abstract questions, such as finding your life’s purpose or meaning, CBT is probably not the best choice for that. CBT focuses on what needs to change and how to change it with little discussion about why you may feel a particular way. Though the core of CBT is this straightforward, focused, measurable approach, some CBT practitioners are more flexible than others and may be willing to integrate some introspective features into the sessions without reducing effectiveness.

How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy has an extensive research base, which is one reason it’s so widely used. Insurance companies who pay for behavioral and mental health services look favorably on CBT because it gives you clear and measurable results in fewer sessions than other forms of therapy. CBT therapy usually lasts a few weeks to a few months, with some variation for the severity and number of the issues to be addressed.

What Should I Expect From a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session?

The first session with a cognitive behavioral therapist is similar to the first meeting with other kinds of therapy. You will likely take care of administrative business such as insurance, payments, and the cancellation policy. Most CBT practitioners use the first session to set goals for your sessions, review your history, and the specific thoughts and behaviors you want to change. You begin to develop an action plan for achieving the results you want. The sessions may end with the therapist assigning “homework” to make small changes before the next session.

Homework is a central tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. To get results in a dozen or so sessions, clients must be willing to do a significant amount of work “practicing” independently between appointments. The homework tasks might include relaxation techniques, journaling, worksheets, or reading a book relevant to what you want to achieve. As you complete more sessions, the homework may be more advanced. For example, the assignment might include looking for settings in which to practice new skills.

CBT plans generally have four stages:

  • Identify the areas of your life that cause you distress, such as family situations, employment challenges, addiction, or mental health difficulties in yourself or someone you love. Discuss with your therapists what you can change and what you must accept but learn to handle differently.
  • Identify the thoughts and beliefs attached to those stressful conditions. Speak them out loud with your therapist and explore how you feel about them.
  • Identify the negative or flawed thoughts that contribute to the problem. Pay attention to your mental, physical, and emotional reactions to those negative thoughts.
  • Reshape those negative or flawed thoughts by learning to redirect yourself when those troubling thoughts come around.

What are Some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques?

You may already practice CBT techniques without knowing it. For example, many people keep journals, track food and exercise routines, and analyze sleep patterns. All of these are CBT practices, and plenty of self-help books and apps use CBT tools. The benefit of CBT therapy, for many clients, is that these tools are custom-fit to the behaviors and thoughts you want to change at a pace that’s right for you.

What are the Disadvantages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

When the client’s goals align with CBT’s brief and focused nature, the results are usually satisfactory. However, CBT is not for everyone. Here are a few situations that may not be best suited to CBT:

  • Clients looking for a long term relationship with a therapist is less likely to occur with this time-limited therapy.
  • CBT is not well-suited for processing dreams, memories, and the past.
  • Critics of CBT find the model to be inflexible at times.
  • CBT is not popular with therapists who believe that the roots of dysfunction are essential to understand.

For clients, CBT carries minimal risk. As with any form of psychotherapy, you may feel emotionally uncomfortable sometimes as you make the changes you seek. You may cry or feel angry, and you may feel physically tired after an intense session. A properly trained CBT professional can help you manage those risks. If you have any questions about whether CBT is right for you, talk to a CBT professional about what you want to accomplish to see if it’s a good fit.

Does Insurance Cover Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Your health insurance probably pays for cognitive behavioral therapy if you have coverage for mental and behavioral health services. If you don’t have insurance benefits, you may be able to find a community provider who sets fees based on income or provides free services. In private practice, therapists may charge up to $200 per session for CBT services.

Where Can I Learn More About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

At MHS, we offer cognitive therapy in an intensive outpatient treatment format. Sessions meet twice weekly and address many mental health disorders. All major insurance carriers cover the program, but clients must meet the criteria for medical necessity. Our CBT professionals will coordinate your care with your other treatment providers to ensure you get the best possible results. If you would like to learn more, contact us today online or call (952) 835-2002 to schedule an assessment.

 

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