Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Common Session Approaches And Methods

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When many people think of talk therapy, they think of the same thing: a therapist sitting and listening to a patient talk about their past. And that's about where their idea of therapy stops. Many people don't realize that there are many available therapy treatments. A popular form of therapy is called cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a very effective form of therapy because of the cognitive restructuring techniques that are used.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help You Find Solutions

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat patients that need help with their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While many people think of therapy as diving into deep childhood issues and repressed memory, CBT focuses on finding solutions today instead of staying stuck processing the root cause of where the problems are coming from. This link between negative thoughts and negative behaviors is known as successive approximation; it’s why difficult situations cause people to react in organic and sometimes explosive ways. CBT targets that link and tries to build positive thoughts to encourage realistic responses and improved problem solving skills. Overall, this form of therapy has been developed over the course of several decades, with input from behavioral experiments and countless scientific studies.

The Mayo Clinic defines it like this: "CBT is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, so that you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively."

The CBT strategy works by helping patients to see how their negative thoughts and negative emotions are impacting their behavior. While our thoughts may be based on our experiences and past (such as our childhood) CBT strategies work to help you find a solution for the here and now, rather than focusing on the negative feelings of the past. The main focus of CBT

Who Does CBT Work For? What Are The Techniques?

Cognitive behavioral therapy can treat a vast number of mental health issues and mental illnesses. Some of these mental health conditions include anxiety disorders, panic disorders, depression, substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders. Other negative patterns in thought and behavior can also be treated with CBT. Several peer reviewed studies have found that CBT and cognitive restricting can help patients reduce and eliminate some health conditions and mental illness symptoms that are not always possible from other forms of therapy.

Examples Of CBT Techniques

While the process of cognitive behavioral therapy CBT will vary based on your needs and the mental health professional, there is a similar outline involved with each patient. Overall, CBT is a short term therapy, which means that the number of sessions is already pre-determined based on the patient’s course of treatment. On its own, CBT is a short term treatment option. Within CBT, other therapies (such as Cognitive processing therapy) are also an option. 

The first step is to identify the negative thought patterns and mental illness symptoms that you want to address. This could be dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one, anger after a divorce, anxiety and depression, or even symptoms from other mental health disorders that you have been diagnosed with. CBT strategies such as role playing, guided discovery, and talking through specific problems of daily life are often employed to help the therapist understand the exact symptoms and issues that the therapy will target.

After that, the therapist will ask you questions about these areas and emotions that you have. The questions will help to get you talking and processing what your thoughts are around the topic. This is effective in helping you to identify any wrong or negative thoughts that you have in your head. This could include talking about your own experiences, relationships that you have with people, or events that you have experienced in your life. Your therapist may also give you homework of journaling each day on your thought life. Journaling is a great way to keep thought records that you can reference in future therapy sessions.

According to CBT Psychology, CBT often uses worksheets to help a person develop positive feelings and coping mechanisms. These worksheets can serve as the therapist’s guide for the patient, even when the patient isn’t talking with the therapist at that exact moment. Exercises such as mindfulness meditation and writing exercises, like journaling, can help foster helpful behaviors to recover and ease past emotional trauma, medical illness, and other mental illnesses. Essentially, CBT is meant to encourage particular behaviors that modify core beliefs about one’s self and one’s own life.

Once you've been able to identify your negative thought patterns, you will start to see how those thoughts are impacting your emotions and your behavior. This allows you to learn how to reshape and reprogram those thoughts into ones that will be more helpful for your situation and in your own life.

What To Expect From Your First Session

When you meet with your therapist for the first time, they are going to need to take some time to get to know you and your situation. They may ask you about your physical health, and if you have any past experiences or challenges with mental health or mental illness symptoms. These questions allow them to help identify what form of treatment will be the best for you or if it will be a combination of treatments and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. This might not all happen in one therapy session, as cognitive restricting takes time.

The more open you are with them from the start, the easier it will be to get the needed information to start moving forward with your treatment plan. If, after doing your research you know that you would like to try CBT, let your therapist know this. If they have any concerns about this, they will be able to address them with you, and you will be able to let them know what your preferences are. If you can't seem to agree with each other, you might want to find a different therapist to work with for the sake of your mental health.

How To Get The Most Out Of CBT

CBT, like all forms of therapy, can be difficult and emotional to work through. You are learning how to think differently, through mental health training, about situations that may have been very hurtful in your life. But, if you stick with the plan that your therapist provides you, you can find the relief that you are looking for and experience long-lasting changes. To get the most out of your CBT sessions, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • You have to be willing to be honest.If you can't be honest during your sessions, then cognitive behavioral therapy is not going to work for you. 
  • Following through for work that is given to you.If you want to see results from your cognitive behavioral therapy session, then you need to do the things that your therapist is telling you to do. This step is called behavior activation, and it is crucial to the success of all that your mental healthcare providers are teaching you. If they want you to keep a journal until your next session, they have a reason for doing so. They are the ones with experience treating mental health issues with CBT, so they’re the expert in this situation. That means you should do everything in your ability to stick to the homework that they give you. It's all in your best interest.
  • Be willing to stick with it.Even though some forms of therapy help you achieve results faster than others, there is no such thing as instant results. Don't quit on the process just because you don't feel like you are "better" after only the first session. Plan your activity scheduling around your therapy sessions, and make sure to stick with the program to the very end of the course of treatment!
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.In order to get the most out of cognitive therapy, you must be involved in the process from start to finish. Even if you don’t have the best social skills, you should speak up to your family therapists. If you have questions about why your therapist wants you to do something or why you aren't seeing the results that you were expecting, it's okay to talk to your therapist about it. There may be some changes that the therapist can make to your treatment plan to help you achieve the goals that you're working towards.

How To Find A CBT Provider Near Me

There are many ways to go about finding a CBT therapist. When you are starting therapy, whether it's CBT or another form, such as exposure therapy, it's important that you feel comfortable with a therapist that you're working with. If you are uncomfortable, then you are going to have a difficult time opening up about personal things in your life. This can cause you to have delayed results, or see no improvement at all in your thought patterns or negative thoughts. If you find that you have a meeting with a therapist and you don't see any results, and they don't seem to be listening to you, don't be afraid to find a new one. The whole purpose of your therapy session is to improve your mental health and mental illness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help You Find Solutions

Try asking friends and family for a personal recommendation for a therapist. You'll be surprised at how many of the people you know that have been to therapy before. It can be helpful to have a personal recommendation, but remember that this is not a 100% guarantee that their therapist is going to be a good fit for you as well.

You can also try finding a therapist by doing a simple online search. Make sure that you check reviews to avoid wasting your time on any mental health professional that isn't going to be a good fit. And don't be afraid to ask for a simple phone call to schedule an appointment to come to their office.

Also, don’t let difficulty finding a therapist at first stop you. If you go into the process thinking that it will be impossible to find a therapist near you, that could be a self fulfilling prophecy in the end. Make sure to check all available options based on your budget, location, and needs.

Make sure you check the therapist's credentials that you will be working with. You also want to look for a therapist that is experienced with CBT treatment plans. While all licensed therapists should be familiar with the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, not all therapist will be experienced using them.

Where To Find CBT Therapists

When looking for a CBT provider, remember to look both in your local area and online. Some people prefer to sit face-to-face for a session, and others like the convenience and comfort of meeting remotely. There are many options for online therapy, such as text therapy and communicating through email, phone, or video calls.

Regardless of the route that you choose to go, it's important that you make sure your therapist is licensed and experienced. After that, you can choose the person that you're most comfortable with. Remember your therapy sessions are about you and your mental health and need to be able to work for you and your situation.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

What are the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy?
What are the 5 cognitive behavioral interventions?
What are the 3 types of cognitive therapies?
What are the 10 principles of CBT?
What are cognitive techniques?
What are behavioral techniques?
What are the four types of behavior therapy?
What's an example of CBT?
What is CBT most commonly used for?
What are the 2 types of CBT?

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