What Is CBT in Psychotherapy? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2022
What Is CBT in Psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is structured and goal-oriented and aims to help people deal with overwhelming problems in a positive way

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps manage mental health conditions by changing the way you think and behave. 

CBT can help with a range of disorders including anxiety disorders, depression, alcohol and drug use problems, relationship problems, and eating disorders.

How does CBT work?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is primarily based on the concept that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are all interconnected.

CBT is structured and goal-oriented and aims to help people deal with overwhelming problems in a positive way and avoid negative thoughts and feelings, which can trap them in a vicious cycle of overthinking and getting more depressed.

What are the basic principles of CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on a few core principles, which are as follows:

  • Psychological problems are partly based on:
    • Faulty, distorted, and unhelpful ways of thinking
    • Learned patterns of unhelpful behavior
    • Problematic core beliefs
  • People with psychological problems can learn effective coping methods, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.

CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change the following:

  • Thinking patterns, which can be changed through:
    • A better understanding of your behavior
    • Recognizing distorted thinking that is creating problems
    • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations
    • Developing a greater sense of confidence in your abilities
  • Behavioral patterns, which can be changed through:
    • Facing fears instead of avoiding them
    • Preparing for potentially problematic interactions with others
    • Learning to calm your mind

What does a typical CBT session look like?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically recommended once a week or once every two weeks. Each course of treatment usually lasts for about 5-20 sessions, with each session lasting at least 30-60 minutes.

The process of CBT consists of the following steps:

  • During each session, your therapist will break down your problems into separate parts, such as thoughts, physical feelings, and actions.
  • Your therapist will analyze areas to work on and determine their impact on you.
  • Your therapist will help you work on ways to change negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • In the upcoming sessions, your therapist will evaluate the effect of these changes in your daily life and discuss modifications that need to be made in future sessions.

What conditions can benefit from CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective way of treating several mental health conditions, such as:

CBT is also used to treat people with chronic physical health conditions (to help them cope with their symptoms), such as:

CBT can also help people go through everyday challenges and life changes, such as:

  • Relationship issues
  • Divorce/breakups
  • Problems at work
  • Sadness/grief
  • Adjusting to a new life situation (house or school change) or a medical condition
  • Stress

What are the pros and cons of CBT?

Several research studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly improve quality of life.


  • Helpful in cases where medications alone have not worked
  • Can be completed in a relatively short period
  • Can be provided in highly structured and different formats, including in groups, self-help books, and online
  • Teaches useful and practical strategies that can be used in daily life


  • Requires commitment and cooperation to get the most out of the sessions
  • Can be time-consuming
  • Involves confronting emotions and anxieties
  • Success primarily depends on the person's willingness to change themselves (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors)
  • May not be a good option for people with complex mental health issues or learning difficulties


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Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2022
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cleveland Clinic https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21208-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-cbt

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral