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What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) & How Does it Work?


What is CBT ?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on present thoughts and behaviors. Clients are taught cognitive skills and behavioral coping mechanisms to help problem solve the current issue.

Common problems treated with CBT include panic, anxiety, stress, depression, sleep, communication, and relationship issues.

This is different from other types of talk therapy, because the focus is on what is happening now, and problem solving skills are emphasized. This helps to increase self reliance and confidence.

How does it work ?

Everybody has thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. While many factors can influence how we think, feel, and behave (e.g. biology, environment), we ultimately have a set of core beliefs. The core beliefs influence how we think, feel, and behave in any given moment. CBT identifies the unhelpful core beliefs, and using specific strategies, makes the beliefs more effective.     

For example…

When someone is suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, an early phase of treatment focuses on managing the fight or flight response through relaxation training. Relaxation training is a set of behavioral coping skills that include controlled breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding techniques.

After these skills are well practiced and clients feel comfortable, the final step is to induce mild panic symptoms in session. Then, the relaxation skills are applied immediately after the panic beings, and clients are able to watch their anxiety go down. This is then repeated several times in session. The pattern of inducing anxiety and bringing it down is called interoceptive exposure (exposure to body sensations). It is a highly effective technique that is proven to treat anxiety and panic attacks.

In the case of panic, other cognitive techniques can also be used (not discussed). Ultimately, going through the experience of inducing mild panic, controlling it, and bringing the panic feeling back down to normal creates a new core belief, making them more effective automatically.  

A final word

If you are wondering if CBT is the right approach, please feel free to reach out for a free initial consult.