What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated March 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What does CBT stand for? CBT, or Cognitive behavioral therapy CBT, is a type of psychological treatment that can help with various emotional and mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and depression. CBT is more than just one therapy; it is a collection of techniques used by clinical psychologists, cbt therapists, and counselors to modify unhelpful thoughts, behavioral patterns, feelings, and emotions enabling better understanding and coping skills for everyday life. Continue reading to learn how CBT therapy works to address emotional and mental issues, and search for "cognitive therapy near me" to find a nearby CBT therapist.

What Is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT counseling, is a psychological therapy treatment based on the idea that psychological problems, such as eating disorders and chronic pain, are partially due to faulty thinking and learned patterns. Cognitive behavioural therapy tends to focus on helping people learn better coping methods and problem solving skills by challenging their unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions during CBT sessions.

CBT, with its several core principles, has been widely studied and shown to help treat various mental health challenges, including anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia, insomnia, and personality disorders. Through structured therapy sessions, individuals can develop effective coping strategies for daily life and improve their overall well-being.

To gain a deeper understanding of the therapeutic approach, one should explore the cognitive behavioral therapy definition, which describes it as a short-term, goal-oriented treatment that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to help improve mental health.

Some of the reasons that CBT may be used include:

  • Managing symptoms of mental illnesses
  • Preventing relapse of mental illness symptoms
  • Treating a mental condition when medication is not a good choice
  • Learning new techniques for managing stress
  • Identifying ways to manage emotions
  • Resolving relationship problems
  • Learning better ways to communicate with others
  • Coping with loss or grief
  • Overcoming emotional issues related to violence, abuse, or neglect
  • Managing severe or chronic medical illness
  • Managing chronic physical symptoms

How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Me?

CBT And Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive thought is crucial for gaining knowledge and fostering a better understanding of the world and oneself. Many mental health professionals in clinical psychology use cognitive behavioral therapy as a psychological therapy to change a person's cognitive distortions. CBT aims to provide individuals with improved thinking strategies, replacing negative thoughts and fears and helping people cope more effectively. There are many types of cognitive distortions, including the following:

  • All-Or-Nothing Thinking: All-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking is when someone believes that things are all good or all bad with nothing in between. This cognitive distortion is one of extremes with a lack of balance or moderation.

  • Jumping To Conclusions: Jumping to conclusions is believing that you know what a person is thinking or what will happen next. People may feel that they can read people’s minds or that they can predict the future.

  • Personalization: Personalization is when people think that everything is about them. Someone experiencing this type of cognitive distortion may believe that everything that happens results from something they did or did not do.

  • Labeling: Labeling is a form of black-and-white thinking in which someone assigns someone or something a label based on past performance. For example, if someone shows up late for work once, another person might label them as lazy. 

  • Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning is a common cognitive distortion whereby people allow their negative feelings about themselves to inform their thoughts as if they are facts. For example, someone might believe that nobody likes them even though they have a close circle of friends, or they may believe that they are not intelligent even if they are getting some good grades. In emotional reasoning, people tend to let their emotions and feelings become their actual view, even if there is no evidence to support it.

  • Catastrophizing: Catastrophizing is expecting disaster all the time, even if the problem you’re facing is small. For example, if your partner is late coming home from work, you may convince yourself that they were in a car accident when they were just stuck in traffic. As another example, your boss may schedule a work meeting, and you convince yourself that you’re getting fired.

  • Overgeneralizing: Overgeneralizing consists of coming to a widely applicable conclusion based on just one thing that happened. For example, if your marriage ended in divorce, you may believe that all marriages will end in divorce and that there’s no point in looking for love again. 

  • Comparing: This cognitive distortion involves comparing yourself to others, even though you know nothing about their situation, and then putting yourself in a negative light. For example, you might believe that all of your coworkers are better at their jobs than you are or that all of your friends are happier than you are.

CBT Techniques And Approaches

One of the core principles of the CBT technique is learning coping strategies to solve present problems and control behavior without the use of psychiatric medications. A behavioral therapist may choose to conduct one-on-one therapy in the office or online, or they may suggest group therapy, depending on a particular problem or individual. Specific interventions of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques may include the following:

  • Multimodal therapy, including biological, interpersonal, cognitive, sensational, affective, and behavioral factors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy to address thinking patterns
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) to address emotions
  • Journaling of thoughts and feelings
  • Desensitization or gradual exposure to things that cause fear or anxiety
  • Strategies to calm the body and mind, such as yoga or meditation
  • Role-playing activities
  • Consistent feedback
  • One-on-one counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Getting Started With CBT

If you feel something is wrong or you just don’t feel right, you don’t have to face your concerns alone. You can try CBT by searching for a local therapist with experience in this approach, or if you don’t feel comfortable visiting a therapy practice, you can contact an online therapist. Research shows that internet cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety significantly reduces symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Online CBT tends to have many benefits, making it easy to get the support you need without leaving the house. With online therapy at BetterHelp, all you need is an internet connection, and you can schedule an appointment with a cognitive behavioral therapist and message them 24/7 if you need additional support.


CBT typically aims to help you understand how you react and cope in difficult situations so you can recognize the negative impact of your thinking patterns on your response. In clinical practice, therapists focus on helping you identify helpful and unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving. If you're interested in learning about changing your cognitive distortions or exploring other forms of treatment, contact a BetterHelp therapist to get started.

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