Should I See A Cognitive Therapist?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated March 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Therapy is shown in various ways across various forms of media. Even if you haven't gone to therapy in the past, you might have seen a depiction in a movie or heard about therapy from a friend. No matter what you've learned about therapy, outside portrayals of sessions can widely differ from real-life experience. In 2021, 41.7 million adults saw a therapist, and one in five adults had a mental illness. Going to therapy is more popular than showcased in many TV shows and films, and you do not have to be diagnosed or struggling with a medical condition to see a therapist.

One popular form of modern therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Learning how a cognitive-behavioral therapist might benefit you can help you gain a better understanding of therapy and CBT techniques and decide whether to try therapy for your concerns.

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It’s possible to stop false thinking and reconnect with others

What is talk therapy?

You may have heard of "talk therapy" in conversations regarding therapy in your daily life. Talk therapy is another term for the type of counseling that involves verbally discussing your symptoms, emotions, and thoughts with a licensed counselor or mental health professional. Often, it's a synonym for cognitive-behavioral therapy, referred to as CBT. Although talk therapy involves talking, many sessions can also involve other forms of therapeutic approach, such as learning, activities, creating art, discussing behavior patterns, or receiving advice.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves a specific structure, and the therapists that practice this structure are called CBT therapists. Through this method, you may develop a treatment plan early in your treatment and work on a specific plan to meet your goals. CBT therapists specifically focus on how thoughts, beliefs, and opinions can create harmful patterns and impact emotional challenges and behaviors. With this type of therapy, you may learn how to change your decision-making process, take power away from harmful thoughts, change unhelpful behavior, and foster healthier relationships. Although it’s often considered a form of short-term therapy, CBT therapists can help determine what length of treatment could be right for you.

What can cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) treat? 

Because CBT focuses on your thought and behavior patterns, you can address multiple symptoms or conditions at once. You might discuss preventing a relapse of symptoms, learning stress management in exposure therapy, developing communication skills, improving relationships with family members, working through challenging situations, dealing with loss, or overcoming an adverse experience. While they do not prescribe psychiatric medications, this therapy often focuses on resolving problems using talk therapy, allowing it to treat various concerns effectively. In addition, you do not need to have mental illness symptoms or a diagnosed mental health condition to see a therapist. 

CBT is a clinical practice and can be a beneficial psychological treatment to address emotional challenges and emotional health. Clinical trials have shown that it may effectively help clients manage symptoms of the following conditions and mental disorders: 

  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Sexual disorders

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

CBT is a form of psychological therapy that focuses on the causes and the root of each symptom and seeks to change how clients think about themselves, others, and their environments. Along with other treatments and therapies, CBT can be an effective tool to help change your thought process and may help you feel a sense of control and self-compassion. 

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Depression

CBT has shown to be an effective treatment for symptoms of depression. It may help you identify negative thinking patterns leading you to feel depressed. By becoming aware of these patterns, you might be able to reframe your thinking and improve your overall wellbeing.

Anxiety

Anxiety can also successfully be treated with CBT by learning to pinpoint inaccurate thinking that leads to feelings of worry or dread. By identifying these negative thought patterns with licensed professionals, patients can learn to apply CBT rationale to situations down the road.

Eating disorders

Several core principles of CBT can also be applied when treating eating disorders. CBT therapists can help someone living with an eating disorder identify unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts related to food and weight. By reframing this thinking, patients can begin to heal.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

People living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also find healing through CBT. Licensed professionals can help patients better understand their trauma and reframe the ways in which their thoughts related to their trauma affects their behaviors. With time and a good therapist, PTSD symptoms can gradually become less intense.

How to find help

If you've decided you might benefit from CBT treatment, your next step may be finding a clinical psychology provider. As one of the most popular forms of therapy, many therapists practice CBT. A few standard methods of finding support that you can use include:  

  • Searching online for therapists in your area 
  • Asking your primary care physician for a referral 
  • Asking friends and family for a referral 
  • Reaching out to your health insurance provider
  • Going to a local mental health clinic 
  • Calling 211 for resource suggestions 

When searching, ensure the providers you talk to have mental health training and have experience with your concerns. Therapy can be a personal experience, so opening up to someone you don't feel comfortable with may not benefit you. You can make a list of potential therapists and make phone calls for short consultations to ask questions while initially searching for a provider. 

Once you've verified your therapist's credentials and decided on a date for an initial meeting, develop a list of questions or concerns you want your therapist to know during your first session. The intake session often involves the therapist getting to know you and asking you to help them outline your goals for treatment. If you feel uncomfortable, disrespected, judged, or uncertain, you can also try scheduling intakes with other providers to make a choice. 

Talking to a therapist may also help you understand their expectations for your therapy sessions. For example, they can discuss how their first few sessions are typically structured, their approach to treatment, and the methods they usually utilize. They might mention if they offer homework or workbooks to clients. You can also discuss how CBT works, how long treatment might be, and how many sessions may be needed to begin to see improvements. 

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It’s possible to stop false thinking and reconnect with others

Aspects of sessions in CBT therapy

There are four steps in CBT related to identifying and overcoming unwanted thoughts and behaviors related to a particular situation. Each step can be as important as the last. By identifying the situation, understanding your thoughts and opinions, identifying unwanted thoughts, and reshaping your method of thinking, you can start to make changes toward your goals.

Identifying the situation

At the beginning of your CBT therapy process, your therapist can help you identify the core causes of your intentions to go to therapy. For example, clients might bring up marital problems, anger issues, relationship conflicts, or mental illness. Identifying the mental illness symptoms that are occurring and what problem you want to tackle first can be valuable. You may struggle to find benefits if you cannot identify the problem. However, your therapist can help you come to a conclusion about this area and help you develop problem-solving skills. 

Understanding your thoughts

After identifying your reason for attending therapy, your therapist can help you outline your thoughts surrounding that situation, including any thoughts you might think are unrelated. You can learn all you understand about the situation and gain techniques to interpret it. Your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world around you can be factored into the discussion to help you create a profound understanding of your situation. In this part of therapy, you might be asked to journal to inquire with yourself about your symptoms. Studies have found that expressive writing, like journaling, can improve mental health disorders.

Identifying unwanted thoughts

After understanding your situation, thoughts, and beliefs, your therapist can help you become an active participant and determine which thoughts or beliefs may be harming you. These thoughts are often referred to as cognitive distortions, and there are various categories and labels for them, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Black-and-white thinking 
  • Labeling 
  • Overgeneralization
  • Filtering
  • "Should" statements
  • Re-attribution 
  • Ignoring the positive  
  • Jumping to conclusions 

By identifying these types of thoughts and learned patterns, you can learn how to change them. In addition, by having labels for the self-talk that happens in your mind, you may be able to better see when negative patterns occur, allowing you to prompt yourself to challenge them. 

Restructuring your thinking 

In the final stage of CBT, you can learn to take unwanted thoughts, behavioral responses, beliefs, or ideas and restructure them through your therapist's aid. They might support you in the process by giving you worksheets, workbook recommendations, or roleplay exercises. As you work through the thoughts, you can also understand their connection to your behaviors and past experiences in your own life. Your therapist can also help you develop coping skills and plans for your relationships and daily responsibilities. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) options 

There are thousands of CBT providers across the country, and finding one can be a straightforward process for many clients. However, if you're struggling to afford therapy, can't find a therapist in your town, or prefer to stay at home, you can also try online counseling. 

With online CBT, you can attend phone, video, or live chat sessions from home and schedule appointments within your schedule, even if it falls outside of standard business hours. In addition, studies have indicated that online CBT is as effective as in-person methods in treating common mental health conditions like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and depressive disorders. 

If you're interested in finding a therapist within the next few days, you can consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp, which has over 30,000 therapists, with many specializing in the unique methods of CBT. 

Takeaway

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help people recognize and challenge inaccurate thoughts and behaviors, which, in turn, often helps people change their behaviors. Although CBT therapists don’t prescribe medications, CBT can be effective for a variety of mental health conditions and illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you're interested in learning more about how CBT works, consider reaching out to a therapist for guidance. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience using CBT for various mental illnesses and life challenges. You may find that CBT helps you learn ways to challenge unhelpful thoughts, which may lead to more beneficial behaviors and emotions. Take the first step toward finding a CBT therapist and contact BetterHelp today.

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