Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a solutions-focused form of talk therapy that is designed to address specific, usually negative, thought patterns and behaviors (symptoms). When participating in CBT, people work on identifying any distorted, problematic thoughts and behaviors they have, and challenging those thoughts and behaviors with healthier and more beneficial options. 

Though we cannot control what thoughts we have, we are able to recognize when we are thinking about a situation in a way that is leading to false conclusions. These patterns of thinking are called cognitive distortions. A few examples include all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, emotional reasoning, and disqualifying the positive. 

By identifying cognitive distortions, we can challenge negative automatic thoughts with more reasonable, objective ways of looking at the same situation. Participants are also taught to question their negative thoughts and feelings, rather than automatically responding to them as accurate. 

Who is cognitive behavioral therapy for?

CBT is appropriate for people of any age and occurs in one-on-one therapy sessions with just you and a licensed mental health provider.

Some of the diagnoses for which people seek CBT include:  

How long does it take for cognitive behavioral therapy to work? 

CBT is intended to be short-term therapy. A course of CBT typically takes at least 10-20 sessions, at which point you and your therapist would review the treatment plan and determine if more sessions are needed to meet specific goals. 

What should I expect from a course of cognitive behavioral therapy? 

In CBT, you will work together with your mental health provider to determine what your treatment goals are, and to identify the problems what you would like to address – this is known as your treatment plan.

When engaging in CBT, you learn different skills to help you reframe your negative thoughts and feelings more objectively, leading to healthier ways of thinking and behaving. You will learn these skills while in session with your mental health provider. Your therapist will likely give you ‘homework’ so you can practice the skills you are learning in session in real situations.

Regularly revisiting your treatment plan and goals can help assure that the treatment in which you are engaging is the right one for you. You may find CBT alone is enough to help you, or you may combine it with other forms of treatment. 

Cognitive behavior therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder

Cognitive interventions in cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD are somewhat different from cognitive therapy for other disorders, such as depression. Challenging distorted thinking in OCD focuses less on challenging the content of  the thoughts themselves and more on identifying the cognitive distortions that are driving compulsive behaviors. Identifying that one is looking at a situation through a distorted lens can empower them to deny their impulse to react to them. In this way, CBT for OCD can function as a powerful complement to Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP).