Considering Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Examples Of How It Can be Used In Treatment

By Patricia Oelze|Updated April 7, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, has been around since the early 1960s, developed by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck where he was a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, Dr. Beck is still teaching at the same university at the age of 97. This distinguished doctor formatted the idea for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy after noticing that many of his clients had internal dialogues similar to talking to themselves, with their thoughts impacting their feelings and actions. He named it CBT since it focused on the clients' thought processes. Dr. Beck, who is nicknamed the father of CBT, now has an institute called the Institute, which is the leading international source for resources, therapy, and training in CBT.

Not Sure If Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is For You?

The Founder Of CBT

During his studies of CBT for depression, he began to notice that his depressed clients had streams of spontaneous negative thoughts that caused depression. He called them automatic thoughts and figured out that they fit into three categories, which included negative ideas about the future, the world, and themselves. These feelings affect your behaviors. For example, if a person believes that nobody likes them, they will constantly be anxious and have low self-esteem, causing them to avoid people and are unable to have successful relationships.

Although Dr. Beck founded CBT, psychotherapy or talk therapy was developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud in the 1890s. Soon after that, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler started introducing their conceptions of psychological findings to help those with psychological illnesses such as depression and anxiety. They are well-known for the therapy now known as psychodynamic therapy. In the early 1920s, behaviorism was the main type of psychology being used and continued to be the focus until the late 1950s when cognitivism and existential-humanistic therapy became popular. Humanism became the main focus for the next decade or so, consisting of empathic, positive therapeutic relationships as well as Albert Ellis' rational therapy, now referred to as rational emotive behavior therapy, or REBT.

The History Of CBT

It was during his time that Dr. Beck started his tenure at the University of Pennsylvania where he conducted the depression research clinic. After several years of practicing and teaching psychoanalysis, Beck was finding it difficult to use the common approaches that were used for treating depression and started searching for a more successful way to treat his clients. As he gained more insight into human emotions and unconscious drives, Dr. Beck found that the cognitive approach was more reliable, and he developed the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). BDI became a major universal tool for diagnosing depressive disorders. He also started noticing a theme in which his clients were experiencing negative thoughts that made a big impact on their feelings and emotions as well as their actions and behaviors. This was the beginning of CBT as it is known today.

Some Examples Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used successfully for treating more than just depression though. In fact, CBT is widely used in many aspects to treat anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, addiction, phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship issues, trauma and grief, sleep disorders, and bipolar disorder. Some of the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques used include untangling thought distortions, journaling, cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and relaxed breathing.

  • Untangling Thought Distortions

One of the main goals of CBT is untangling your thoughts, and you can do this at home by yourself or with the help of a therapist. You need to become aware of thought distortions you are most vulnerable to so you can identify and change them.

  • Journaling

Writing down your thoughts and feelings is an excellent way to figure out what is going on. By paying attention and keeping track of your moods and emotions, you can trace it to what is causing it. You can also use the journal to track the times and dates of these occurrences and how you responded to these issues. This can help you find patterns and learn to change or cope with them better.

  • Cognitive Restructuring

This technique is used once you can identify the distorted thoughts and feelings you have been having. You will then be able to learn how this distortion started and why it seemed so real at the time. In doing this, you will be able to target certain beliefs that are negative and challenge them so you can change them.

  • Exposure Therapy

There are several types of exposure therapy depending on what you are trying to treat. For example, if you have a phobia or an anxiety disorder, you can start to expose yourself to what causes that fear or anxiety in small amounts until you realize that you do not have to be afraid or stressed out.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

For those familiar with mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is similar to the body scan. This helps you to identify each muscle group and relax them one at a time until your whole body is relaxed. PMR can be done at home or in the therapist's office, or you can try using online therapy to learn the technique so you can do it on your own.

  • Relaxed Breathing

This is another technique similar to mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. There are many options of how to relax your breathing including guided imagery, audio recordings, YouTube videos, or online therapy. Relaxed breathing can be used alone or with PMR to induce whole body and mind relaxation.

Some Examples Of CBT Exercises

There are also many CBT exercises that therapists teach their clients to help them cope with their thoughts and emotions. While there are specific exercises structured just for certain issues, many of them can be used for several types of mental or emotional problems. Here are a few of them:

  • Cognitive Pie Chart: This exercise is a way to reexamine how you look at things by writing down your thoughts similar to journaling. However, with this, you will create a visual that can be even more effective by assigning a percentage to each of your negative thoughts.
  • Constructive Worrying: Great for those with anxiety disorders that cause constant worry, this exercise helps you focus your worry so that it is a more positive feeling. Worrying can be good for you in some ways as long as it is productive.
  • Treating Thoughts as Guesses: One way to reverse the negative feedback loop is to treat your thoughts more like guesses than facts. Because that is actually what they are. Our thoughts are typically just guessed about what we think may happen. For example, if you want to learn to dance but have trouble in your first dance class, you may think you cannot learn to dance. However, that is just a guess or opinion, not a fact.

How Does CBT Work?

Not Sure If Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is For You?

According to the experts, CBT works on the basis that your feelings and behavior are affected by how you think. It treats specific problems by choosing goals that you want to achieve to succeed. This type of therapy can be in the form of individual face-to-face therapy, group sessions, or online therapy. What makes CBT so effective is that it is structured and teaches skills and strategies to help get rid of negative thoughts and feelings. Most people believe that our feelings are caused by things that happen to us such as arguments with a loved one or a bad day at work. However, it is the thoughts that you have about these situations that cause negative feelings. These automatic thoughts that linger in our minds after the event are what create the anger or sadness that we feel and CBT is a way to train your brain to stop lingering on those negative thoughts and feelings.

CBT For Relationship And Family Counseling

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is not just used to help you relax or sort your emotions. The practice of CBT can be helpful in marriage or family therapy to help make your relationship stronger or to deal with problems in the family dynamic. In fact, CBT is especially effective for adolescents who have anger or behavioral issues as well as anxiety problems. Young people are commonly affected by anxiety disorders and have higher rates of anxiety disorders than those under the age of 11 years old. Treating anxiety in adolescents can be tough because of all the hormonal changes, peer pressure, and new relationships being developed but CBT has been extremely successful in this area.

CBT For All Other Issues

However, CBT is a wonderful type of treatment that can help with just about any sort of mental, emotional, or behavioral issues. With addiction, you can use CBT to break the cycle of using drugs, alcohol, or whatever it is you are struggling to break free of. And CBT can help you focus your thoughts and emotions to control phobias and defuse panic attacks. In fact, CBT is one of the best and most effective treatments for anyone who is trying to deal with any kind of negative thought processes, and if you choose to do so, you can even get CBT from home without an appointment by using online therapy.

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