What Is Cognitive Therapy? Definition And Applications

Updated December 6, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Cognitive therapy, better known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, is one of the types of psychotherapy that is frequently used by therapists to treat a variety of mental health conditions. It can be very helpful for many people, and it is one of the primary methods of psychotherapy being used today. It is a short-term therapy that can provide long-term solutions. Read on to learn more about what cognitive therapy is and how it is used.

Online CBT Is Just As Effective As In Person CBT

Cognitive Therapy Definition

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about self and the world can be challenged and used to alter behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. Cognitive therapy focuses on mindfulness and harnessing negative thoughts to turn them around to be more positive influences on mood and behavior.

CBT has long been used to treat these disorders because it has proven to be highly effective. In cognitive therapy, one can harness negative thoughts that cause depression and anxiety and challenge them, learning that they are by far untrue and therefore unworthy of affecting behavior and mood.

The key to successful cognitive behavioral therapy is not just to overcome the mood disorder or behavior, but to learn skills that can help negate these disorders in the future. While cognitive behavioral therapy is usually short-term therapy, it can teach skills that can be used throughout one's life to continue combatting depression and anxiety for years to come.

The Basics Of Cognitive Therapy

The concept behind cognitive therapy is that thoughts and feelings can affect behavior and mood. Cognitive therapy uses techniques to help patients identify these negative thoughts and feelings and turn them around into positive thoughts, which can then be used to change behavior and mood. 

While you might not be able to control what goes on in the world or even many aspects of your life, you can control how you think and feel about these events and how they can affect your behavior and mood. CBT is a process by which all can have this power over thought and mind.

Cognitive therapy is usually used to treat a specific problem, and it is typically a very short-term therapy. This often makes it very popular with both patients and clinicians because it tends to be more affordable and with excellent results. Also, the tools learned in cognitive therapy for one specific problem can be used by the patient to combat additional problems as they arise throughout their lifetime.

Types Of Cognitive Therapy

There are a few different types of cognitive therapy that may be used by therapists and psychologists. Each type of cognitive therapy may use different treatment approaches which may include individual psychotherapy as well as self-help reading assignments. 

Which type of cognitive therapy works for you may not be immediately clear, but a good therapist can determine the right type for you and your situation.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

This type of cognitive therapy is based on discovering and changing irrational beliefs. The patient delves in deep with the therapist to discover what irrational beliefs are affecting their behavior and mood, and then work to change those beliefs over time. Once those beliefs are changed, patients can learn how to identify irrational beliefs in the future and how to overcome them so that they can live more happy and productive lives. It is a popular type of therapy for substance use disorder.

Traditional Cognitive Therapy

In traditional cognitive behavioral therapy, the patient can learn how to identify and change inaccurate or distorted thoughts that might affect mood and behavior. The patient may learn skills to change emotional responses and behaviors by changing thought patterns. This is considered the most common type of cognitive therapy.

Multimodal Therapy

This type of cognitive therapy is based on seven modalities that should be addressed in treating behavior and mood disorders. The seven modalities focused on this type of cognitive therapy are behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug or biological factors. All of these modalities are addressed in multimodal therapy, one-by-one.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This type of cognitive therapy is another popular type used by therapists. In this type of cognitive therapy, emotional control and mindfulness are used to address thinking patterns and behaviors. The patient is taught how to recognize negative thoughts and use emotional control and mindfulness to isolate those thoughts and eliminate them so that they cannot affect them negatively.

What To Expect From Cognitive Therapy

When you go through cognitive behavioral therapy, there are typically some stages to the process. 

First, your therapist will likely take you through an assessment to determine what areas you need to work on, such as depression, anxiety, self-esteem, or phobias. The assessment process may involve some self-report forms in which you explain your thoughts, feelings, mood, or behaviors.

After the assessment or functional analysis, you will typically get started with the bulk of the work of CBT. Functional analysis can be a journey of self-discovery, and introspection can be difficult. Yet once the negative thoughts and feelings have been identified and it is examined how they affect behavior and mood, changes can begin that are designed to overcome those barriers.

The second half of cognitive therapy can focus on the behaviors and thoughts themselves. You can learn skills to overcome these negative thoughts and behaviors. This is not likely to be a quick process, but it can be a gradual changing of behavior and thought processes. Often the work of cognitive therapy is broken up into small steps that gradually change behavior and thought processes.

There are several tools that the therapist will probably use in cognitive therapy. You may be asked to do some self-help work either through recommended books or through handouts your therapist will give you. You will probably leave most sessions with a homework assignment, a way to apply what you are learning in therapy to the outside world. These assignments can be very important and will help you ultimately change your mood, behavior, and thoughts.

Cognitive Therapy Applications

There are several different applications in which cognitive therapy can be useful and effective. Depression can often be treated with cognitive therapy because depressed moods are generally caused or made worse by internal thoughts and behaviors. Anxiety is another condition that can be treated with cognitive therapy for much the same reason. Specific phobias can also be treated with cognitive therapy, as can certain emotional problems such as low self-esteem.

Another common application of cognitive therapy is in substance use disorder treatment. Cognitive therapy can help people struggling with substance misuse to recognize the negative thoughts and behaviors that lead to drug and alcohol misuse and take gradual steps to eliminate risks of relapse in the real world. Cognitive therapy can also be helpful because during self-discovery, the patient may recognize their initial causes for the substance misuse.

Online CBT Is Just As Effective As In Person CBT


Many people benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Our thoughts and emotions can play a large role in our behavior and mood. By learning to control your thoughts and emotions and make them positive rather than negative, you can then control your behavior and mood more effectively. Cognitive therapy is a good option for anyone with a specific problem needing to be addressed.

If you feel that cognitive therapy may be right for you and your situation, there are several options available to you. 

If you feel you need more one on one help with cognitive therapy, getting a regular therapist is your best option. Having a regular therapist can enable you to work with one individual to learn about yourself and gather the skills to overcome negative behaviors and moods. Most therapists meet with patients once per week, every other week, or once per month. It is up to you based on your availability, preferences, and budget

One very good option is a service like BetterHelp. With BetterHelp, you have a regular therapist that you can touch base with whenever it is needed. You can see the therapist through BetterHelp on chat, over the phone, or online video chat. Most therapists are available for multiple sessions throughout the month, and they may also be available for quick questions or check-ins in between appointments.

The biggest advantage in using BetterHelp is that you can speak with your therapist more frequently. Not only is the therapist more readily available, but also online therapy is also typically more affordable than in-person sessions. 

Clinical studies have demonstrated that online cognitive behavioral therapy is just as effective as in-person cognitive behavioral therapy in treating conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, phobias, and more.

To get started with BetterHelp, follow the link above and complete a brief questionnaire about your needs and reasons for seeking out therapy. You will be connected with a therapist unique to your needs.

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