The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior.2 For example, a person who spends a lot of time thinking about plane crashes, runway accidents and other air disasters may find themselves avoiding air travel.


The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.

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Cognitive behavior therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years with both mental health consumers and treatment professionals. Because CBT is usually a short-term treatment option, it is often more affordable than some other types of therapy. CBT is also empirically supported and has been shown to effectively help patients overcome a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.2

Automatic Negative Thoughts

One of the main focuses of cognitive behavioral therapy is on changing the automatic negative thoughts that can contribute to and exacerbate emotional difficulties, depression, and anxiety. These negative thoughts spring forward spontaneously, are accepted as true, and tend to negatively influence the individual’s mood.

Through the CBT process, patients examine these thoughts and are encouraged to look at evidence from reality that either supports or refutes these thoughts. By doing this, people are able to take a more objective and realistic look at the thoughts that contribute to their feelings of anxiety and depression. By becoming aware of the negative and often unrealistic thoughts that dampen their feelings and moods, people are able to start engaging in healthier thinking patterns.2

Types of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

According to the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, “Cognitive and behavioral psychotherapies are a range of therapies based on concepts and principles derived from psychological models of human emotion and behavior. They include a wide range of treatment approaches for emotional disorders, along with a continuum from structured individual psychotherapy to self-help material.”

There are a number of specific types of therapeutic approaches that involve CBT that are regularly used by mental health professionals. Examples of these include:

  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT): This type of CBT is centered on identifying and altering irrational beliefs. The process of REBT involves identifying the underlying irrational beliefs, actively challenging these beliefs, and finally learning to recognize and change these thought patterns.
  • Cognitive Therapy: This form of therapy is centered on identifying and changing inaccurate or distorted thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors.3
  • Multimodal Therapy: This form of CBT suggests that psychological issues must be treated by addressing seven different but interconnected modalities, which are behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors and drug/biological considerations.4
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy: This type of cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses thinking patterns and behaviors and incorporates strategies such as emotional regulation and mindfulness.

While each type of cognitive-behavioral therapy offers its own unique approach, each centers on addressing the underlying thought patterns that contribute to psychological distress.

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The Process of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

  • During the process of CBT, the therapist tends to take a very active role.
  • CBT is highly goal-oriented and focused, and the client and therapist work together as collaborators toward the mutually established goals.
  • The therapist will typically explain the process in detail and the client will often be given homework to complete between sessions.
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy can be effectively used as a short-term treatment centered on helping the client deal with a very specific problem.2

Uses of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy has been used to treat people suffering from a wide range of disorders, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Addictions
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger

CBT is one of the most researched types of therapy, in part because treatment is focused on highly specific goals and results can be measured relatively easily.

Compared to psychoanalytic types of psychotherapy which encourage a more open-ended self-exploration, cognitive behavior therapy is often best-suited for clients who are more comfortable with a structured and focused approach in which the therapist often takes an instructional role. However, for CBT to be effective, the individual must be ready and willing to spend time and effort analyzing his or her thoughts and feelings. Such self-analysis and homework can be difficult, but it is a great way to learn more about how internal states impact outward behavior.

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