Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – A Breakdown

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of therapy often used to treat anxiety disorders as well as depression that may be present in your daily life. According to scientific research studies, cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective in the treatment of depression as antidepressants and psychiatric medications.

An optimal treatment plan for many conditions is often medication in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, including online therapy. However, this is context-dependent. If a person is living with anxiety and feels that they don't need medication, CBT counseling is a great place for that individual to start and may result in changes over a relatively short period of time.

The focus of CBT treatment is on helping gain insight into your thoughts and thought patterns. Our thoughts can significantly impact our moods, and cognitive behavioral interventions can address negative thinking patterns that may contribute to mental health issues. With the coping techniques of behavior therapy, you have the power to change your feelings as well as any unhelpful behavior.

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CBT can help change your behaviors and thoughts

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), like cognitive processing therapy, is a type of psychological therapy that teaches people or a person about distortions and thought patterns. Often, clinical practice client is unaware of these unhealthy patterns of thinking until they learn about how they impact their lives in a negative way, and at that point, they can change the way they think about things through online therapy CBT.

What does CBT stand for? Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy with several core principles that aim to improve negative thoughts, behavior patterns, and mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be an effective tool to treat anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, mood disorders like bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and psychological distress.

The benefits of CBT include new coping skills, relaxation techniques, stress management, emotional control, and improvement of symptoms from mental health disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can lead to both short-term and long-term benefits for mental health.

What can CBT treat?  Post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders, and more

CBT has been supported by clinical psychology, peer-reviewed studies, and clinical trials. These studies and clinical trials show that psychological treatment with CBT method can be helpful in treating the following mental health conditions:

  • panic disorder

  • bipolar disorder

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • post-traumatic stress disorder

  • eating disorders

  • substance use disorder

  • anxiety disorders

  • other mental illness

How does CBT work? Overview

In your first session with a CBT-licensed mental health professional, you will learn that CBT works by addressing unhelpful thinking patterns. One of the thinking patterns that CBT aims to manage is distortions. Read further to see if you personally experience some of the following distortions and could benefit from psychological treatment using cognitive therapy:

Filtering

This means that you take the negative details and magnify them. Then you ignore the positive attributes of a situation. For example, a person could focus on one negative thing and ruminate on it. Then their perspective of the situation is distorted in a negative light.

"Black and white" thinking

In this distortion, you see things as "black or white." There are no shades of gray or middle ground. Either you are perfect or you are a complete failure. There is no in-between, and we know that this is inaccurate in life. Psychological issues like stress, anxiety, and depression may manifest as a result of this distortion.

Overgeneralization

This means that you are concluding something based on one thing that happened. Just because something occurs one time, it doesn't mean it will happen every subsequent time. This is an overgeneralization, and it can be destructive to your thinking and mental health; it can also lead to relationship issues and other emotional difficulties.

Jumping to conclusions/mind reading

You cannot know what another person is thinking. In this distortion, you are jumping to a conclusion, because of your emotional reaction to another person. It's better to ask that person how they feel rather than assume it.

Catastrophizing

This means that you imagine a terrible scenario where a horrible thing happens based on a tiny detail. For example, if your friend or one of your family members doesn't call you back, you might assume that they hate you or that something horrible happened to them.

Personalization

Personalization means that you believe that it is about you. An event occurs and you are convinced that it was because of you. Someone's negative response is that you did something wrong. In reality, there are a number of factors at play here and it's not necessarily all about you. These types of thoughts can contribute to low self-esteem and other concerns.

Control fallacies

You see yourself as helpless and a victim of fate. There is nothing you can do to change your life because it is predetermined and hence you are doomed. This is inaccurate, and you do have the power to make decisions and advocate for yourself.

Fallacy of fairness

Life isn't fair; we've heard this time and time again. However, lamenting about how you are being treated unfairly and that there is a vast conspiracy against you is also an exaggeration. This kind of thinking can also be a detriment to your emotional health. Balance in life can happen, and it’s important to recognize that.

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Blaming

It's important to take responsibility and be accountable for your actions. If you feel a certain way, it isn't because of someone else. They could have said something that hurt your feelings, but they didn't "make you feel that way." It's not productive to tell someone "You made me feel bad." What's more productive is to say, "I feel hurt when you say ___." Use your I-statements and you will avoid this distortion.

Should statements

Have you ever heard the saying "stop should-ing all over yourself"? When we say "I should do ___," it induces guilt and shame in us. There is no need to say, "I should be" or "I ought to" because there is no rule book for life. You are free to make your own decisions about what’s best for you, and CBT techniques can help reinforce this.

Emotional reasoning

You feel a certain way; therefore, it must be the truth. Feelings are not the ultimate indicator of what is logically true. You could feel that someone is angry with you, but until you check in with them and ask, you won't know the truth.

Fallacy of change

We believe that we have the power to change other people if we cajole them enough. This isn't true. A person will change, if they want to, on their own time. Just a few sessions with the right therapist can help individuals address this distortion.

Labeling

"I'm a failure," "I'm a bad friend," "I am stupid." These are all examples of labeling. It's unhelpful to call yourself names. You are a human being with a multitude of qualities, but you are not one thing. We all have flaws, but we are not exclusively identified by them.

Always being right

Nobody is right all the time. In fact, there is no right and wrong in a given argument. There are subjectivity and different people's perspectives. You have your opinion and I have mine. We could be looking at the same shade of green and you think it's blue, while I insist that it's green. No one is right in this situation. It's a matter of opinion.

Heaven's reward fallacy

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CBT can help change your behaviors and thoughts

We believe that if we do the right thing in situations throughout life, we will be rewarded somehow in life. This isn't always the truth. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa. There is no one keeping score, and we do the best that we can in our lives.

What CBT can help with

Learning cognitive behavioral therapy techniques during sessions with your therapist in treatment, including cognitive distortions and thought records is extraordinarily helpful for people with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. CBT is a treatment based solution that provides insight into our emotional challenges and has the capacity to better our lives with the development of coping skills and pathways to healthier thinking.

A CBT therapist uses cognitive behavior therapy, and may combine CBT with other treatments like exposure therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, to provide psychological treatment in therapy sessions. The clinical practice of many therapists is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and an array of other mental health conditions, including emotional symptoms from chronic pain. CBT sessions use clinical psychology-approved cognitive therapy techniques to teach coping mechanisms to people learning to manage a mental illness. Through cognitive behavioral therapy examples, a psychologist may prescribe medications to enhance treatment in rare cases.  

CBT online: An overview

Being an active participant in your own psychological treatment will ensure that you get the most out of cognitive behavioral therapy. The success of your treatment will depend on how many sessions you attend, and how much you apply yourself. 

There are many CBT therapists at BetterHelp who can teach you valuable skills in recognizing your own cognitive distortions and how to change them through online therapy sessions. Even if you don’t have health insurance, their talk therapy can be affordable and may help you deal with behavioral responses that impact your mental health. You may opt for short term therapy or for a longer term therapeutic approach; in either case, you can find a healthcare provider to help you gain a better understanding of your emotions, thought distortions, and any particular situation you need assistance with. Below you’ll find some reviews from others who have recently focused on CBT with BetterHelp counselors.

Therapist reviews

“Kelsey is warm, responsive, and flexible in working with her clients' needs. I'm primarily doing cognitive behavioral therapy with her to change some distressing behaviors, and her support and concrete actions have guided me well.”

“Jackie consistently guides and supports my progress, while creatively challenging my cognitive distortions. I feel super fortunate to have Jackie as an intelligent and compassionate counselor who lifts my eyes up and into focus.”

Takeaway

If you are still struggling with thought and behavioral issues in your own life you want to change, you might want to find a CBT therapist who specializes in using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to work on your thoughts, potential issues, relationship with your mind, stress management, as well as develop coping skills and improve your overall health. If one is struggling with anxiety disorder, these therapists can’t typically prescribe medications, but anxiety disorder cognitive behavioral therapy may help lessen the symptoms and be able to acquire skills to cope. To make the therapy process easier for you, meeting with an online therapist is an option for CBT. You can just quickly search for "cognitive behavioral therapist near me" online to get the options that you have. This way, you can meet for CBT where it’s most comfortable for you and at a time that works best for you.

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