Many therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists utilize cognitive behavioral therapy when they treat their clients. This is a common type of mental health counseling used to explore inaccurate or negative thinking in order to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very helpful tool in treating many types of mental disorders or illnesses, including anxiety or depression. Not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition; it can be used to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations. For example, it may help you:
- Manage symptoms of mental illness, either by itself or with medications, treat a mental illness when medications aren’t recommended, such as during pregnancy, and prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms;
- Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations;
- Identify ways to manage emotions and resolve relationship conflicts, thereby learning better ways to communicate;
- Cope with grief or emotional trauma related to abuse or violence;
- Manage chronic physical symptoms.
Mental health conditions and disorders that may improve with cognitive behavioral therapy include:
- Sleep disorders
- Sexual disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Because this therapy explores painful feelings, emotions and experiences, you may feel uncomfortable at times. You may cry, get upset or feel angry during a challenging session, or you may feel physically drained. Some forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, such as exposure therapy, may require you to confront situations you’d rather avoid. This can lead to temporary stress or anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is done one-on-one or in groups with family members or with people who have similar issues. At your first session, your therapist will gather information about you and determine which concerns you’d like to work on. The therapist will encourage you to talk about your thoughts and feelings and issues that are troubling you. If you find it hard to open up about your feelings initially, don’t give up; give the process a chance—your therapist can help you gain more confidence and comfort.
Cognitive behavioral therapy generally focuses on specific problems, and uses a goal-oriented approach. This may include “homework” — activities, reading or practices that build on what you learn during your regular therapy sessions. Keeping a journal, for example, may be a good way to record thoughts, feelings and behaviors over time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy typically includes these steps:
- To identify disquieting situations in your life including a medical condition, divorce, grief, anger or symptoms of a mental illness;
- To become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these situations or conditions and share your thoughts about them;
- To identify negative or inaccurate thinking. To help you recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to your problem, your therapist may ask you to pay attention to your physical, emotional and behavioral responses in different situations;
- To challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Your therapist will likely encourage you to ask yourself whether your view of a situation is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of what’s going on.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is not effective for everyone, but it may teach you how to make life a little easier if you approach therapy as a partnership; if you’re open and honest with your therapist and with yourself; if you stick to your treatment plan, and do your homework between sessions. Therapy is a process that takes time, honest effort and regular evaluation in order to obtain positive results. If your therapist asks you to read, keep a journal or do other activities outside of your regular therapy sessions, follow through with these strategies. You may be surprised at the insight you develop.
Source: Mayo Clinic