What exactly is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is a branch of psychotherapy that gives people the skills and techniques to deal with emotional problems that are causing them psychological difficulty.

There are three aspects to the discipline:

  • Thinking – Cognitive
  • Doing – Behavioral
  • Treatment – Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Cognitive part

The cognitive part of CBT is all about your thinking.

And this means all the mental processes that go on inside you, not just your conscious thought processes.

So that includes things like your memory and how you code them as records of past events, with details of actions and attached meanings.

It also includes the images that you create in your mind, your conscious, deliberate thoughts, where you focus your attention at any one moment, your dreams and hopes and aspirations, your imaginations and even your fantasies.

Yes, everything that goes on in your head.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Behavioural part

The behavioral aspect of CBT refers to all your actions, everything you do

What you say, what you do to solve problems, how you act in certain situations, what you choose to avoid and all other behaviors.

And it is important to remember that you can never do nothing — choosing to ‘ do nothing’ is a choice to be passive, but you are still doing something, that is, being passive and not acting, still a behavior and a choice, although you might not think of it in this way.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Therapy part

The therapy part of CBT describes the systematic process of addressing an issue which you deem to be a problem or part of an illness or condition.

One of the primary concepts of CBT is that your feelings occur as a consequence of how you think.

Once you grasp this principle, it follows that the simple way of living a more happy and fulfilled life is to think happier and more fulfilling thoughts.

Easily said, but not always so easily put into action!

However, you can always choose how you think.

In fact, choosing what you think about at any one moment is probably the only thing that you have total control over in your life, although you may not necessarily feel in total control of thinking.

But actually, you are, and therefore, to a great extent, you are also in total control of how you feel in any particular situation.

Powerful thoughts, eh?

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach to Problems

Cognitive behavioral therapy combines a scientific, behavioral, and philosophical approach and allows you to understand and overcome psychological issues over the long term, rather than just applying a sticking plaster to a problem. If you want to learn more about the core concepts od Psychopathology and abnormal behavior, click in the link to check out an interesting article related to that.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Scientific approach

CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders, and has numerous scientific studies which support its effectiveness.

The scientific approach is not just that the process has been studied and proven to be effective, however, but also that it teaches the individual to approach their problem in a scientific manner like in the cognitive-behavioral model of relaxation is explained.

For example, you may choose to view your thoughts as a set of beliefs and theories about reality, rather than as absolute facts and truths. By doing this, you can adopt a scientific approach and test your theories for their validity and then change those which are found to be untrue and unhelpful for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Philosophical approach

The philosophical part of CBT recognizes that all your thoughts and behaviors occur in your own personal context.

The primary goal of CBT is to allow you to develop empowering beliefs about the world and your role within it which are flexible and helpful, rather than rigid and limiting.

These beliefs need to be set in your own personal context and are not general to everyone as becomes obvious when we’re studying how to best deal with Anger Management through Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

It also recognizes that your thoughts and behaviors are influenced by what is going on around you (your environment) and, even though the events may not change, you can change your response to those events.

One of the key ways of thinking is that “it is not what happens, but what you choose to do about what happens”, that determines how you feel at any particular time.

Just think about this one for a moment, and how acknowledging this to be true might change things for you right now…

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the Behavioral approach

The behavioral aspects of CBT emphasize that your behavior influences directly how you think and how you feel. This is very clear in this post where we discuss CBT in relation to ADHD treatment. Research has shown that ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is stemming from malfunctioning within an individual’s prefrontal lobe of his or her brain.

Whenever you behave in a certain way, your actions change how you think and this changes how you feel.

For example, if you find yourself focusing your attention internally on worrying potential future events and therefore find that you feel anxious, you can change how you feel simply by choosing to change where you focus your attention.

If you focus instead on an external object or activity, you will find that your emotional response will also change to reflect your changed thinking, and you will feel differently.

You just need to choose where you focus your attention at any one moment in order to change your emotional state and thus address your anxiety disorders. See also this post about homework assignments for Psychology Students and Therapists.

So, in summary, CBT is the process of adopting a focused, systematic, goal-orientated and problem-solving approach to your addressing your anxiety, panic or other psychological problem by changing your thinking and your behavior.

It teaches you a set of skills and techniques to develop a new way of thinking and so empowers you to choose how you are feeling.