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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Treatment Types, Techniques, and Benefits

April 11, 2022

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Amy Mauro

Think about a time when you watched a movie that left a strong feeling with you. Maybe you felt fear at the shot of a dark hallway and the sound of a child laughing.

For weeks after watching the movie, you locked your bedroom door, turned on your light, and checked behind your sweaters to make sure nothing was hiding in your closet. Have you ever wondered why movies can make us feel?

Aside from stunning visuals and brilliant cinematography, the answer exists in our brains. It’s what you think about during the horror scenes that causes feelings of fear. Put simply, your thoughts have the power to control your emotions. Given that our minds are thought processing machines, creating more than 6,000 thoughts per day, we’re bound to feel and act in ways that we’re not necessarily aware of. This is where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) comes in.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps us understand our thoughts and identify where they’re causing painful emotions in our everyday life. It’s based on the idea that the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act are influenced by each other.

What is the Goal of CBT?

During CBT treatment you will learn problem-solving skills that will help you identify, challenge, and replace negative thoughts with more objective, realistic, or positive thoughts. 

CBT uses five problem-solving steps:

  1. Recognize the problem
  2. Create a list of potential solutions
  3. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each solution
  4. Choose a solution to understand
  5. Implement the solution

What are the Types of CBT?

CBT encompasses a range of cognitive and behavioral techniques and approaches from structured psychotherapies to self-guided practices:

  1. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines the elements of cognitive behavior therapy with meditation. The goal is to cultivate a non-judgemental and present attitude, referred to as mindfulness
  2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) addresses thoughts and behaviors while using problem-solving strategies and finding acceptance. DBT helps patients who experience powerful emotions and view situations as extremely good or extremely bad. The goal is to cultivate coping skills to deal with a crisis more effectively. 
  3. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach which relies on positive reinforcement and counterconditioning. ACT helps patients who avoid, deny, or struggle with their inner emotions. The goal is to change how you respond to your inner emotions. 
  4. Rational emotional behavioral therapy (REBT) is an active-oriented approach which helps you identify irrational beliefs like self-defeating thoughts and feelings. REBT helps patients identify their irrational thoughts, challenge their thoughts, and change their thought patterns. 

Multimodal therapy uses seven different but interconnected modalities to address and change the situation: behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug/biological considerations.

What are the Therapeutic Techniques of CBT?

The technique used by the CBT practitioner depends on which areas of life you want to address in talk therapy. Some of the therapeutic approaches involve: 

Journaling: Writing is a creative and time-honored way to get in touch with our thoughts. Your therapist might ask you to list negative thoughts that occurred during the session, and to list positive affirmations. You might start to track any new thought patterns and behaviors you’re learning outside sessions: writing helps you see how far you’ve come. 

Progressive muscle relaxation: You might use progressive muscle relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and imagery. You will learn to focus on one muscle group or body part for 5 to 7 seconds and rest up to 30 seconds. You will learn the difference between relaxation and tension. 

Meditation: Meditation invites you to concentrate on inner thoughts, breathing sensations, sounds, and specific areas of your body. You will learn to bring attention back to the area that you were focusing on through techniques such as awareness of breathing.

Role playing: Role playing guides you through different behaviors in typically stressful situations. You will develop healthy problem solving skills, gaining confidence and assertiveness, improving communication skills, and practicing social skills.

Exposure therapy: You might use exposure therapy for addressing phobias and overcoming fears. Your therapist will slowly expose you to things that provoke fear or anxiety, while offering guidance on how to cope with them in the moment. You will gain confidence and feel less afraid in certain situations. 

Cognitive restructuring/reframing: You will take a direct look at negative thought patterns. You will learn how not to overgeneralize, assume the worst, or place too much emphasis on minor details. You will learn to identify negative thought patterns, and how to reframe those thoughts to more positive and produce ones.

What can CBT help with?

What are the benefits of CBT?

The main benefit of CBT is that it helps us gain control of our thoughts. The process of identifying and replacing our negative or irrational thoughts with productive or more positive ones can transform our thought processes, our responses to difficult situations, our relationship to ourselves, and others.  

  1. CBT gives people hope about their mental health condition. When we learn how to challenge our thoughts, we expand our minds to new possibilities and ways of living. 
  2. CBT helps people develop self-esteem. Many mental health conditions are associated with low self-esteem, feeding into the cycle of negative thoughts influencing negative behaviors. CBT can disrupt the negative thinking pattern and help you gain confidence in your own abilities. 
  3. CBT helps people relax. We learn how to control our responses to positive and negative situations through developing calmer response techniques: deep breathing, meditation, journaling, etc. 
  4. CBT helps people develop rational thought processes. We will recognize negative and unrealistic thoughts that affect our mood and cause conflict in our daily lives. We will no longer allow negative thoughts to take control of our lives and we will learn to think rationally. 

The take-away:

CBT is a well-established and effective type of psychotherapy based on the understanding that the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act are influenced by each other. Since there are several techniques used with CBT, you will want to work with your therapist to figure out which CBT strategy best suits your particular needs. 

If you or someone you know might benefit from CBT treatment, please contact HBH Therapy at (413) 343-4357. Our trained mental health professionals at Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, and across Massachusetts will answer all of your questions and concerns, and guide you along the path of healing.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.