Cognitive Behavior Therapy - Changing the Way We Think and React

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What is congnitive behavioral therapy?

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:

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.

An example of erroneous thought patterns that can be adjusted by CBT

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.

How is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) different?

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.

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Medically reviewed by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology


"Psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder"

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