(Source: The National Institute of Mental Health)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a blend of two therapies: cognitive therapy (CT) and behavioral therapy. CT was developed by psychotherapist Aaron Beck, M.D., in the 1960's. CT focuses on a person's thoughts and beliefs, and how they influence a person's mood and actions, and aims to change a person's thinking to be more adaptive and healthy. Behavioral therapy focuses on a person's actions and aims to change unhealthy behavior patterns.
CBT helps a person focus on his or her current problems and how to solve them. Both patient and therapist need to be actively involved in this process. The therapist helps the patient learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns, recognize and change inaccurate beliefs, relate to others in more positive ways, and change behaviors accordingly.
CBT can be applied and adapted to treat many specific mental disorders.
CBT for depression
Many studies have shown that CBT is a particularly effective treatment for depression, especially minor or moderate depression. Some people with depression may be successfully treated with CBT only. Others may need both CBT and medication. CBT helps people with depression restructure negative thought patterns. Doing so helps people interpret their environment and interactions with others in a positive and realistic way. It may also help a person recognize things that may be contributing to the depression and help him or her change behaviors that may be making the depression worse.
CBT for anxiety disorders
CBT for anxiety disorders aims to help a person develop a more adaptive response to a fear. A CBT therapist may use "exposure" therapy to treat certain anxiety disorders, such as a specific phobia, post traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Exposure therapy has been found to be effective in treating anxiety-related disorders.1 It works by helping a person confront a specific fear or memory while in a safe and supportive environment. The main goals of exposure therapy are to help the patient learn that anxiety can lessen over time and give him or her the tools to cope with fear or traumatic memories.
A recent study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that CBT is effective in treating trauma-related disorders in children and teens.
CBT for bipolar disorder
People with bipolar disorder usually need to take medication, such as a mood stabilizer. But CBT is often used as an added treatment. The medication can help stabilize a person's mood so that he or she is receptive to psychotherapy and can get the most out of it. CBT can help a person cope with bipolar symptoms and learn to recognize when a mood shift is about to occur. CBT also helps a person with bipolar disorder stick with a treatment plan to reduce the chances of relapse (e.g., when symptoms return).2
CBT for eating disorders
Eating disorders can be very difficult to treat. However, some small studies have found that CBT can help reduce the risk of relapse in adults with anorexia who have restored their weight.3 CBT may also reduce some symptoms of bulimia, and it may also help some people reduce binge-eating behavior.4
CBT for schizophrenia
Treating schizophrenia with CBT is challenging. The disorder usually requires medication first. But research has shown that CBT, as an add-on to medication, can help a patient cope with schizophrenia.5 CBT helps patients learn more adaptive and realistic interpretations of events. Patients are also taught various coping techniques for dealing with "voices" or other hallucinations. They learn how to identify what triggers episodes of the illness, which can prevent or reduce the chances of relapse.
CBT for schizophrenia also stresses skill-oriented therapies. Patients learn skills to cope with life's challenges. The therapist teaches social, daily functioning, and problem-solving skills. This can help patients with schizophrenia minimize the types of stress that can lead to outbursts and hospitalizations.
1 Hofmann SG, Smits JA. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2008 Apr; 69(4): 621-632.
2 Hausmann A, Hortnagl C, Muller M, Waack J, Walpath M, Conca A. Psychotherapeutic interventions in bipolar disorder: a review. Neuropsychiatry. 2007; 21(2): 102-109.
3 Pike KM, Walsh BT, Vitousek K, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy in the posthospitalization treatment of anorexia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2003;160(11):2046-2049.
4 Chen E, Touyz SW, Beumont PJ, et al. Comparison of group and individual cognitive behavioral therapy for patients with bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2003;33(3):241-254.
5 Rathod S, Kingdon D, Weiden P, Turkington D. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for medication-resistant schizophrenia: a review. Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2008 Jan; 14(1):22-33.