Cognitive Behavior Therapy - Changing the Way We Think and React

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Cognitive behavior therapy (cognitive therapy, or CBT) is used commonly in psychiatric practice to help individuals change the way they think (called "cognitive restructuring") and behave in certain situations. Cognitive behavior therapy is a widely accepted therapy that can be used to treat any uncomfortable or destructive habit or practice. It is commonly used to treat addictions, eating disorders, mood swings, stress, relationship difficulties, insomnia, anger, and other conditions.

The term "cognitive" refers to cognitions, or thoughts, and how they may be distorted and lead us to develop inaccurate perceptions of what's going on in the world around us. For example, many people experience anger or anxiety for no outwardly apparent reason, due to their own - perhaps distorted - impressions of events. The "behavioral" component of cognitive behavior therapy focuses on our actions and how these are tied to our thoughts. Integrating the two components allows therapists to work toward weakening the connections between faulty "automatic" thoughts and certain behavioral responses.

Cognitive behavior therapy attempts to control erroneous thought patterns that lead to damaging behaviors. One example of such a pattern might be:

Someone in a meeting at work suggests an improvement to a project you've done. Even though this individual expressed a positive impression of your work and no criticism was intended, you feel attacked and have an automatic "anger response." On your way back to your desk you pick up doughnuts and a cola and wolf them down, fuming. In this case the erroneous thoughts based upon misperceptions (believing you are being attacked) lead to negative, destructive behavior (binge eating).

Cognitive behavior therapy trains the thought-behavior response cycle by reinforcing healthy, rational thinking and appropriate behavioral responses to situations encountered in everyday life.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy and many other forms of therapy, cognitive behavior therapy does not involve lengthy time frames or extensive investigation into past life events. Cognitive behavior therapy is a goal-oriented short-term process, predominantly focused upon the present and future. Most cognitive behavior therapy treatments range from a few weeks to a few months in duration.

Cognitive behavior therapy therapists take an active role in the treatment process, and the patient is usually expected to complete types of "homework" exercises involving reinforcement of positive patterns. Indeed, these "corrective experiences" that occur outside of the therapy sessions are an important part of treatment.

For additional information, please visit the following MedicineNet areas:


Last Editorial Review: 7/11/2005




STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!