Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mental Health
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
When you struggle with a mental disorder, therapeutic interventions are an important part of a long-term treatment plan. At URP Behavioral Health, we provide a range of evidence-based therapies to improve patients’ outcomes and help them develop coping skills that enhance functionality. One of the most common methods is cognitive behavior therapy, commonly known as CBT. Let’s discuss the theory behind the therapy and how it’s used to treat different disorders.
CBT is regarded as one of the most effective treatments because it puts control back in your hands. It’s based on the theory that the way you perceive a situation is what leads to unhelpful emotions and, consequently, behaviors. In contrast, other psychotherapies target unresolved conflicts as the cause of our behavioral problems.
Therefore, it works by assisting you in stopping the cycle of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
What Are Some Common Goals in CBT?
The specific goals of your CBT therapy sessions can look different depending on your diagnosis. However, some general goals include:
- Building emotional intelligence and awareness by learning how to read your emotions and separating helpful from unhelpful feelings.
- Forming a connection between cognitive distortions, painful feelings, and problematic behavior patterns.
- Learning techniques to identify distorted thoughts and challenging them
- Changing core beliefs and unrealistic associations to prevent emotional distress and future personal growth
How Long Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Take to Work?
At URP Behavioral Health, most individualized residential treatment plans are written for a period of four to five weeks. The plan is modified every two weeks by tracking your progress and making changes as necessary.
It’s possible that you may require more weeks of cognitive therapy, depending on your diagnosis, severity of symptoms, and degree of dysfunctionality.
What Can I Expect in CBT?
When you begin CBT therapy sessions, you can expect the following:
- Each session will be structured, so there’s always an agenda to ensure that you cover a certain amount of material. Of course, there’s some flexibility, but each session will involve a discussion of your current difficulties, reviewing your progress so far, and planning for the next session.
- You’ll receive homework as part of your CBT treatment plan. The entire purpose of this therapy is to help you build the necessary skills to manage the difficulties that come with symptoms. And because you encounter most of these difficulties outside the therapeutic environment, the homework is usually practical. That means trying new thinking strategies, engaging in certain behaviors, or just monitoring your thought content.
- Collecting data is crucial to determine whether the therapy is working. Therefore, you’ll have to complete different self-monitoring exercises or questionnaires to keep track of how you’re managing symptoms over the course of your treatment plan. Using this information, your therapist can know for sure that the current approach is working for you. If not, they can modify it according to new findings.
How is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Different From Other Psychotherapies?
When CBT was introduced in the 1960s, it was the first psychotherapy of its kind. Today, it’s still very different from other forms of psychotherapy because of its collaborative, structured, and pragmatic nature. Let’s discuss each feature in detail:
- Because it’s a collaborative therapy, your mental health practitioner will work with you to find a solution rather than telling you what to do.
- Compared to other therapies, it doesn’t try to resolve past conflicts. Rather, it focuses on how you can respond to current problems and situations.
- It’s structured in a way that prevents you from going off-topic. You won’t be discussing whatever comes to mind about your life. Rather, your therapist will ask you about specific problems so you can work together to set goals.
Most importantly, it pinpoints an issue and attempts to solve it through cognitive or behavioral changes.
What Conditions Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Treat?
CBT is an umbrella term for a number of variations that are used to treat different disorders. These therapies are specialized to tackle specific aspects of a mental disorder, such as intrusive thoughts in the case of anxiety disorders. At URP Behavioral Health, therapists rely on methods such as cognitive and exposure therapy to help patients with conditions like generalized anxiety disorder.
Exposure works by modifying your mind’s current pathological fear structure. It does so by providing it with new information that disproves the currently-held unrealistic associations (for example, believing that an increased heart rate can lead to a heart attack). When you confront the feared stimulus, you experience less fear each time you encounter it.
This is a mood disorder with two types: manic and hypomanic. So, when you have bipolar disorder, you experience depressive and manic/hypomanic episodes. With CBT, your therapist will aim to reduce the intensity of symptoms during a depressive or manic episode.
When you’re experiencing a depressive episode, common symptoms include low mood and negative thoughts. During CBT sessions, your therapist will guide you on the best way to identify triggers that lead to such episodes. Additionally, they’ll help you build skills to manage negative thoughts and overcome them.
During a manic or hypomanic episode, you experience an increase in energy and confidence. You may also be open to new ideas and experiences. As a result, it’s possible that you’ll feel guilt or embarrassment after the episode passes.
CBT will help you change these negative perceptions to reduce the intensity and effects of future episodes. Your therapist will encourage you to track your mood, monitor your internal thought process, and examine behaviors.
There’s evidence that receiving CBT treatment for depressive disorders leads to a lower relapse rate compared to when you only undergo pharmacotherapy. When you begin cognitive behavior therapy for depression, you’ll agree on a specific problem with your psychiatrist and set specific goals.
Initially, you’ll increase awareness about the connection between your cognitions and behavior. Then, your therapist will use techniques such as guided discovery and Socratic dialogue to modify your thoughts and, consequently, your behavior.
Over time, you’ll build new skills to help manage symptoms. Then, you can apply them in different situations to reduce the risk of relapse.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you struggle with PTSD, your therapist will use a form of CBT known as prolonged exposure therapy, which can include imagined and real-life exposure. You’ll revisit the memory of the traumatic event by visualizing what happened. At the same time, you’ll vocalize what happened during a therapy session.
After revisiting the contents of imagined exposure, you re-process it to develop a new perspective about yourself, other people, and the world. Therefore, you challenge negative perceptions and make them positive.
Schizophrenia refers to the entire spectrum of schizophrenic disorders, all of which are characterized by the occurrence of psychotic symptoms, i.e., hallucinations and delusions.
When receiving treatment for a schizophrenic disorder, your therapist will use cognitive behavioral interventions like reality testing, building coping skills, and cognitive restructuring. In addition to alleviating psychotic symptoms, CBT is also useful for reducing the anxious and depressive feelings that can accompany hallucinations or delusions.
When you learn how to test the reality of your perceptions, you can ignore auditory hallucinations and challenge delusions. Over time, your therapist will help you build problem-solving and social skills so you can be a part of a community.
In the case of OCD, your therapists will apply a form of CBT known as exposure and response prevention. It’s designed to tackle both characteristics of the disorder: obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. You’ll complete in vivo exposure during the therapy session with your therapist and outside the therapeutic environment.
Let’s say you have the obsessive thought of getting ill each time you touch a doorknob in public, so you make it a point to engage in ritualistic washing behavior a specific number of times. In this case, your therapist will ask you to refrain from engaging in safety behavior the next time you’re outside and touch a doorknob.
This mental illness is characterized by a pervasive fear of experiencing a panic attack. It causes you to make significant changes to your lifestyle as a way to avoid encountering another panic attack.
To treat this disorder, a licensed mental health professional will use a form of CBT known as interoceptive exposure, during which you deliberately induce specific physical sensations that you consider signs of an incoming panic attack.
The purpose of this technique is to disprove the assumption that all uncomfortable sensations like sweating and an increased heart rate are indicative of a panic attack.
There’s research to prove that people who undergo CBT show reductions in the rate of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Through cognitive therapy, you pinpoint underlying conflicts that cause you to engage in self-harming behavior.
Through discussions with your therapist, you’ll identify which factors or triggers increase your desire to self-harm. Then, you can start working on techniques to manage those difficult thoughts without resorting to self-harm.
Borderline Personality Disorder
At URP Behavioral Health, therapists use a specialized variation of CBT, called dialectical behavioral therapy, to treat borderline personality disorder. The therapy is based on CBT but is specifically designed for people who experience intense emotions – a common aspect of BPD.
During CBT sessions, your therapist will work on cognitive restructuring, which involves spotting negative reactive thoughts and altering them. You’ll also build skills to improve functionality in social situations and reduce unhelpful thoughts.
This is a category of disorders that lead to problems with your sense of self, perception, and identity. A majority of dissociative disorders occur as a result of prolonged exposure to complex trauma. Therefore, therapists use techniques that help you re-process the repressed trauma.
In this case, CBT is also added to treatment plans, but mainly to alleviate depressive and anxious feelings that occur as a result of symptoms. Similarly, your therapist may use CBT to help build problem-solving skills in situations when you’re affected by distressing symptoms.
Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
There’s increasing evidence that proves the use of CBT techniques results in an improvement in quality of life and daily functioning. In these studies, cognitive behavior therapy has proven to be as effective as the use of medication.
It’s also important to remember that CBT works because it’s an evidence-based practice. It’s supported by numerous examples of empirical research that indicate its efficacy for treating different mental disorders.
Due to its evidence-based nature, therapists can provide personalized treatment, a structured treatment plan, and a focus on efficacy.
FAQs for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding cognitive behavior therapy and its applications.
Psychiatrists and therapists use CBT to teach patients how to control their thoughts, feelings, and, ultimately, their behaviors. By teaching you how to challenge your intrusive thoughts and negative beliefs, they help you build strategies to start changing your behavior.
CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, and it’s a talk therapy that’s designed to help you manage symptoms by altering the way you feel and behave. It’s an evidence-based psychotherapy that’s used for various mental health conditions like depressive and anxiety disorders.
Aaron Beck founded cognitive behavior therapy in the 1960s after conducting a series of studies involving patients with depressive symptoms. He noticed that they would often say things that indicated cognitive distortions and lacked validity. He referred to them as automatic negative ideas and stated that they fall into three categories: negative thoughts about oneself, the world, and the future.
Studies indicate that CBT is one of the most effective treatment methods if you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Even on its own, it has an efficacy of around 50 to 75 percent for alleviating symptoms of anxiety or depression after 5 to 15 sessions. Of course, there are cases where mental health practitioners consider it suitable to combine CBT and medication to stabilize a patient’s mental state. This will make you more receptive to therapy sessions.
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