What is CBT Therapy?
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in what we do and how we feel.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy does not exist as a distinct therapeutic technique. The term “cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)” is a very general term for a classification of therapies with similarities. There are several approaches to cognitive-behavioral therapy, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy.
However, most cognitive-behavioral therapies have the following characteristics:
1. CBT is based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughtscause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations,and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change.
2. CBT is briefer and time-limited.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered among the most rapid in terms ofresults obtained. The average number of sessions clients receive (across alltypes of problems and approaches to CBT) is only 12 to 16. Other forms oftherapy, like psychoanalysis, can take years. What enables CBT to be brieferis its highly instructive nature and the fact that it makes use of homeworkassignments. CBT is time-limited in that we help clients understand at thevery beginning of the therapy process that there will be a point when the formal therapy will end. The ending of the formal therapy is a decision made by thetherapist and client. Therefore, CBT is not an open-ended, never-endingprocess.
3. A sound therapeutic relationship is necessary for effective therapy, butnot the focus.
Some forms of therapy assume that the main reason people get better intherapy is because of the positive relationship between the therapist andclient. Cognitive-behavioral therapists believe it is important to have a good, trusting relationship, but that is not enough. CBT therapists believe that theclients change because they learn how to think differentlyand they act on that learning. Therefore, CBT therapists focus on teaching rational self-counselingskills.
4. CBT is a collaborative effort between the therapist and the client.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists seek to learn what their clients want out of life(their goals) and then help their clients achieve those goals. The therapist’srole is to listen, teach, and encourage, while the client’s roles is to expressconcerns, learn, and implement that learning.
5. CBT is based on aspects of stoic philosophy.
Not all approaches to CBT emphasize stoicism. Rational EmotiveBehavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, and Rational Living Therapy emphasize aspects of stoicism. Beck’s Cognitive Therapy is notbased on stoicism.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy does not tell people how they should feel. However, most people seeking therapy do not want to feel they way they havebeen feeling. The approaches that emphasize stoicism teach the benefits offeeling, at worst, calm when confronted with undesirable situations. They also emphasize the fact that we have our undesirable situations whether we areupset about them or not. If we are upset about our problems, we have twoproblems — the problem, and our upset about it. Most people want to have thefewest number of problems possible. So when we learn how to more calmlyaccept a personal problem, not only do we feel better, but we usually putourselves in a better position to make use of our intelligence, knowledge,energy, and resources to resolve the problem.
6. CBT uses the Socratic Method.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists want to gain a very good understanding oftheir clients’ concerns. That’s why they often ask questions. They alsoencourage their clients to ask questions of themselves, like, “How do Ireally know that those people are laughing at me?” “Could they be laughingabout something else?”
7. CBT is structured and directive.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists have a specific agenda for each session.
Specific techniques / concepts are taught during each session. CBTfocuses on the client’s goals. We do not tell our clients what their goals”should” be, or what they “should” tolerate. We are directive in the sense thatwe show our clients how to think and behave in ways to obtain what theywant. Therefore, CBT therapists do not tell their clients what to do — rather,they teach their clients how to do.
8. CBT is based on an educational model.
CBT is based on the scientifically supported assumption that most emotionaland behavioral reactions are learned. Therefore, the goal of therapy is to help clients unlearn their unwanted reactions and to learn a new way ofreacting.
Therefore, CBT has nothing to do with “just talking”. People can “just talk”with anyone.The educational emphasis of CBT has an additional benefit — it leads to long-term results. When people understand how and why they are doingwell, they know what to do to continue doing well.
9. CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method.
A central aspect of Rational thinking is that it is based on fact. Often, weupset ourselves about things when, in fact, the situation isn’t like we think itis. If we knew that, we would not waste our time upsetting ourselves.Therefore, the inductive method encourages us to look at our thoughts asbeing hypotheses or guesses that can be questioned and tested. If we findthat our hypotheses are incorrect (because we have new information), then wecan change our thinking to be in line with how the situation really is.
10. Homework is a central feature of CBT.
If when you attempted to learn your multiplication tables you spent only onehour per week studying them, you might still be wondering what 5 X 5equals. You very likely spent a great deal of time at home studying your multiplication tables, maybe with flashcards.
The same is the case with psychotherapy. Goal achievement (if obtained)could take a very long time if a person was to only think about the techniques and topics taught for one hour per week. That’s why CBTtherapists assign reading assignments and encourage their clients topractice the techniques learned.