I have been asked several questions last week about CBT and what excactly it is so this article will concentrate on that. It is written by Amy Capetta.
Cognitive behavioural therapy — better known as CBT — treats anxiety, depression and other conditions with a simple concept: Reframe the way you interpret the situation at hand, and that perspective switch can help alleviate the pain.
Even though it’s really simple, science says it’s also really effective. CBT is one of the few forms of psychotherapy with solid, supportive research behind it. Over 300 clinical trials for many different disorders all showed positive results, according to the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.
CBT is not only effective in treating social anxiety, but it also works better and longer than antidepressants, according to a massive John Hopkins study in 2014 with over 13,000 participants across 101 clinical trials.
Depressed people who underwent just 12 sessions of CBT still recalled and leveraged the skills they learned four years later — as long as they viewed the treatment as a learning process and not just a venting session, a small 2017 study found.
What Is CBT Exactly?
Compared to other school of psychotherapy, CBT patients learn specific problem-solving skills for the present moment that can be used for their rest of their lives, the Academy of Cognitive Therapy explains.
“The idea of CBT is to make people aware that their thinking really influences how they are feeling, and how each person perceives a particular circumstance will influence their emotional responses,” says R. Trent Codd, III, Ed.S., president and founder of the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Center of Western North Carolina in Asheville.
Whenever people experience strong negative emotions like anger or depression, they are often unable to see any upside or clarity to the feelings. “In CBT, the ultimate goal would be for the patient to arrive at a new way of perceiving the circumstances that would either facilitate their ability to solve the problem or learn to see it more correctly,” Codd states.
Consider this: You’re walking down the street, see someone you know and say hello — but this person doesn’t acknowledge you. Your internal reaction could range from, “She doesn’t like me,” to “She’s mad at me” to “She’s embarrassed to be seen with me in public,” all of which leave you feeling sad, angry or ashamed.
“There’s this automatic conclusion where one never stops to consider possible explanations as to why this person kept on walking,” Codd says. “Could it be that she was in a hurry? Could it be that maybe she didn’t hear you? CBT helps patients come off auto-pilot and become more aware of their thinking.”
The therapy isn’t about viewing everything through rose-colored glasses though. “Sometimes saying positive things to yourself can be just as dysfunctional as being overly-negative because you could end up lying to yourself about what your circumstance are,” he explains. “CBT is more about learning to see things realistically for what they truly are.”
Who CBT Can Help
CBT can help with everything from mood disorders to OCD to addiction to chronic pain and rheumatism, according to the National Institute of Health. It’s especially effective for anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders (mental illnesses that cause physical symptoms like pain), bulimia, anger problems and general stress, based on a 2012 study analysis.
But Codd says the three groups of patients who use it most suffer from depression, anxiety disorders and insomnia.
CBT is also a powerful treatment for kids. Teenagers experienced fewer symptoms of depression after 12 weeks of CBT in a 2016 study, while a research from this year found that kids with major depressive disorder had better connections in the emotion-processing regions of their brains after six months of the therapy.
How to Try It
You can find a certified cognitive therapist in your area through the Academy of Cognitive Therapy’s database. Codd adds that CBT can look different based on the issue at hand (anxiety versus insomnia, for example), so be sure to find someone who specializes in your concerns.
Also note that sometimes the treatment is used in conjunction with medication. The combination of the two helped decrease depression and anxiety and improve psychological well-being and quality of life in a 2016 study.
Another option: online CBT programs, which more and more research is finding to be effective. Both clinical care and online CBT together benefited people suffering from mild or moderate depression, anxiety and emotional distress from an illness in a 2015 study review in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Most women suffering from postpartum depression also saw significant improvement in their symptoms after just six online CBT sessions, according to a 2016 study.
Whatever you decide to do, know that CBT is more than just laying on a therapist’s couch. It’s a powerful tool that can help in a wide variety of situations.