What Is CBT Psychology And What Are Its Benefits?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may have heard about CBT psychology, especially if you've been considering therapy. This way of referring to the practice can be a bit misleading; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful, but it may be easily misunderstood. 

The common name "CBT Psychology" can give a false impression, because CBT isn’t a type of psychology; CBT is a tool that psychologists and counselors can use during therapy. Here's a brief look at what it is and the benefits it can provide.

Do you think you could benefit from CBT?

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy definition is a therapy tool designed to challenge negative thought patterns and replace them with more helpful thoughts if appropriate. Its goal is to change behavior or relieve symptoms of mental and physical disorders.

Many conditions can be treated with CBT. In fact, whenever negative or unrealistic thoughts are behind a problem, cognitive psychotherapy can provide help with the solution. The following list includes some of the issues CBT can address.

  • Time management
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Addictions
  • PTSD
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Excessive anger
  • Relationship problems
  • Trauma

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

  • Grief and loss
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep disorders

The CBT process

CBT sometimes comes with homework and hard work on both sides. However, it can be a very straightforward technique. Your therapist can guide you each step of the way as you learn how to take control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Here are the basic steps involved.

Identify distressing situations

The first part of CBT involves talking about the problems that are troubling you. It can be important to identify any situations, circumstances, or events that distress you. Your therapist might begin with a simple conversation starter to prompt you to discuss what might be bothering you. If you ramble or get off course, they may gently guide you back to the process.

Become aware of feelings, beliefs, and thoughts

As you tell your story, your therapist may at times ask you how that situation or event made you feel. Now is the time to look for the thoughts behind those feelings. You may know those thoughts already, or you may discover them through the therapeutic process. You'll also get a chance to recognize the beliefs and assumptions you're basing those thoughts on.

Identify unhelpful thinking

At this point, you may know what the problem is, and you may be more aware of your feelings about it, and you also might have identified the thoughts behind them. Next, you may examine each thought to consider whether it's helping you feel and behave the way you prefer. Unhelpful thoughts can be negative or unrealistic.


Make decisions

You'll now have a decision to make about each unhelpful thought. Are you willing to let it go? Letting go of thoughts can be difficult. It might be easy to believe you have no control over them. You may even feel your thoughts are a part of who you are. Your therapist can teach you a different way to look at thoughts so that you can understand the real power you have in the situation.

Replace unhelpful thoughts

Once you decide a thought is not serving you well and you want to replace it, you may need to nurture different thoughts that could benefit you more. For the replacement to work, you may need to choose realistic thoughts that you can accept. And you may need to choose thoughts that are generally positive. Don't worry if you draw a blank. Remember that your therapist will help you all along the way.

Benefits of CBT

CBT can have benefits that range from the practical to the life changing. Therapists and their clients often prefer this therapy tool over many others. Here are some of the reasons so-called "CBT Psychology," correctly called cognitive behavioral therapy, is so popular.

Short duration of treatment

It often doesn't take long to see the effects of CBT. In fact, the most common course of treatment consists of between five and twenty sessions. Each session is 30 to 60 minutes long. You do need to be committed to the process, but if you show up for your appointments and do your homework, you should see results relatively quickly.

Highly effective and long-lasting

In studies on CBT, this technique has been proven effective time and again. It can be especially effective for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and addictions. Studies have also shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy is just as effective as in-person CBT. Online CBT, as opposed to in-person, comes with the added benefits of being particularly convenient, available, and more affordable. And although CBT can be more effective for some people than others, it can help nearly anyone to some extent. How well it works depends on several factors that can include:

  • Your level of commitment
  • The therapist's skill in employing CBT
  • The severity of the disorder
  • Length of the disorder

Even more impressive, the effects of CBT tend to last. After your last session, you'll likely function and feel better.


Its effectiveness and short duration can make CBT very attractive to insurance companies because it may be one of the least expensive options for treatment of mental health disorders. And, if you choose an online therapist that you pay session by session, the cost is very reasonable for you as well.

Helps you manage symptoms

The thing you might notice when you first start CBT is that your symptoms may become easier to manage. If you have an anxiety-related disorder, you may find that you become anxious or worried less often. Then, when you do experience feelings of anxiety or restlessness, you likely have learned what to do to decrease those feelings and choose better responses.

When CBT is used to help with pain management, it can help you change your thoughts and emotions about the pain you're feeling. You can develop strategies to cope with the pain. Also, CBT can change the way your brain works, which ultimately can improve the way your brain responds to pain.

Helps prevent relapse

CBT may be used as a tool for helping people who have serious mental conditions, such as severe depression or anxiety. If you have a condition that has lasted for months or even years, you might worry that the symptoms will return once the CBT sessions are over. The good news is that the enduring effects of CBT can reduce your risk of relapse.

Offers actionable life skills

Cognitive-behavioral therapy isn't just something that stays in your therapist's office. You can carry on with what you've learned during sessions, even after you finish treatment. And, if you ever run into a rough patch, you can reconnect with your counselor to get back on track.

Helps you take control and make changes

This therapy technique is built on the premise that it's you who creates your life experiences, not the people, events, and circumstances you face. That means you're in control of how you think, feel, and behave. When you understand that, it can empower you to make positive changes.

Do you think you could benefit from CBT?

How to take full advantage of CBT

If you're thinking about cognitive-behavioral psychology to treat the symptoms of your mental health issues, there's one thing you should keep in mind: you need to take the right approach to therapy.

Do your part

Think of your therapist as your partner in therapy rather than your boss. You're both there to do your part in resolving your issues and facilitating the changes you want to make. Be open and honest with them because that might be the only way they can truly help you. Engage fully in the process. Remember that cognitive-behavioral therapy isn't something your therapist does to you but a process you and your therapist can achieve through cooperation.

Stick to your commitment

The basics of CBT may be easy to understand, but the process can be difficult. You may have to deal with painful memories and distressing emotions. You might have to let go of thoughts you've been holding onto for a long time. But you can accomplish your goals if you honor your commitment to yourself.

First, keep your therapy appointments. Don't give in to the urge to put it off until next week. Show up each time, ready to do your best. Second, if your therapist gives you homework to do between sessions, follow through with your best efforts.

Finally, be patient. Your concerns won't likely be resolved in one session. Even though CBT is faster than many other therapy techniques, it does take some time. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you take the right approach, the results can take care of themselves. The benefits can come, not in a flash, but gradually and surely. As a therapy tool, CBT offers an effective way for your therapist to help you change your thinking, your behavior, and your life.

Find a CBT therapist

So, how can you get started with CBT? First, find a therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy as one of the tools in their repertoire. You can get help locally if you choose. Another option is to use the same technology you use every day to connect with a counselor via live video-conferencing.

You can find counselors skilled in this technique at BetterHelp. By choosing to get help through this online therapy platform, you can make the process easier. That's because you can take advantage of the convenience that comes with having therapy when and where you like. With the right therapist and a commitment to change, you can reap the benefits of this helpful process.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapeutic technique designed to identify and change thought patterns that do not serve you. Studies have proven that it is effective in treating a wide array of mental health conditions, including anxiety, chronic pain, and depression.
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