The treatment of mental health disorders has come a long way in the modern era, as therapists have adopted different forms of behavioral therapy to help their patients learn to identify issues and change unhealthy behaviors. While this therapy can take many different forms, cognitive behavioral therapy has become an increasingly popular option. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental health problem, it’s important to understand what cognitive behavioral therapy is and how it works.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Like other related forms of treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to aid patients suffering from a wide range of mental health concerns like depression and anger management problems, as well as conditions like substance abuse, eating disorders, phobias, and more. The treatment method uses a synthesis of cognitive and behavioral therapy to help patients focus on how their actions are influenced by their thoughts, emotions, and response to different situations.

Many other forms of mental health therapy rely on a more freestyle dialogue between the therapist and patient, with conversations often focusing on deep-seated issues related to people and events from the patient’s past. Cognitive behavioral therapy takes a different approach, using more structured dialogue that emphasizes the problems in question by focusing on the patient’s thought patterns and current actions. Instead of trying to identify and resolve lingering issues with roots in the long-buried past, this type of therapy focuses on finding solutions that enable the patient to set positive goals for the present and future.

Areas of Emphasis

This type of therapy is very much based in the here and now, and focuses its attention on helping the patient understand his or her problem. To do that, problems are typically viewed from five different perspectives: situations that trigger certain responses, the patient’s thoughts about those situations, the emotions that are evoked, the actual physical sensations caused by those thoughts and emotions, and the actions taken by the patient in response to those other factors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy operates on the premise that each of those five factors are related to one another. Situations serve as triggers for thoughts and emotions, which in turn elicit physical sensations that the patient responds to with self-defeating or otherwise negative behavior. By working to understand reach of these important areas, the patient can better understand why he reacts to situations in a certain way. That knowledge can be used to help create strategies that alter that behavior, with the ultimate goal of helping the patient to replace unhealthy thought patters and actions with more positive behavior.

The Reasons Why This Form of Therapy Works

Cognitive behavioral therapy has a proven track record of success, and has helped people around the world learn to deal with a wide variety of mental health concerns. That success is due to the unique nature of this type of therapy and the advantages that it provides for the patients who receive it.

It Combines Two Effective Therapy Methods

Cognitive behavioral therapy offers a synthesis of two specific therapy methods, bringing together the best features of both behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. That enables therapists to more effectively customize their approach to match the patient’s needs. With the cognitive approach, therapists can help patients to deal with the interplay between their deep-seated issues, various situations in their lives, thoughts and feelings, and actions they take in response to that outside stimuli.

A Focus on Ending Negative Thought Cycles

Since negative thoughts are believed to play such a critical role in the development of harmful behavioral patterns, much of cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on learning to identify and alter those thought patterns. All of us have an internal dialogue that continuously runs within our minds. Researchers believe that those thoughts are directly tied to our emotional state, and negative or positive thoughts can have a direct impact on the way that we feel at any given moment in time.

Patients who suffer from persisting and recurring negative thought cycles also suffer from harmful emotions as well. Those emotions often cause physical responses that motivate the patient to act in certain ways. Together, these factors create patterns of behavior that can be problematic in any number of different ways. The theory behind cognitive therapy is premised upon an understanding that situations and events don’t actually create the underlying problems that lead people to engage in destructive behaviors. Instead, we are motivated by our perception of those events. In other words, we each assign meaning to every event and situation in our lives. When that meaning is defined by negative thoughts, it negatively impacts our emotions, physical state, and reaction to what has happened.

Using cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist can work with the patient to better understand the source of these negative thoughts so that action can be taken to realign the thought process in a more positive direction. The goal is to help patients learn to alter those negative thoughts by interpreting situations and events in a more positive way. In other words, the patient learns to give a different kind of meaning to those situations.

Since the thoughts are the source of the patient’s negative emotions, unwelcome physical response, and reaction to the situation, patients who change the way that they think about events and situations in their lives can effectively change the way that they feel and react to everything around them. That provides the patient with the coping tools needed to alter destructive behavior and enjoy a new lease on life.

Breaking Down Negative Thought Patterns

Cognitive behavior therapy utilizes a structured approach to help patients work through these negative thought cycles. The goal is to help the patient reinterpret his problems in ways that make them more manageable. That can provide the patient with the confidence needed to find new meaning in events and situations, leading to more positive thoughts, improved emotional responses, and – ultimately – more positive reactions to situations that once triggered self-destructive behavior.

Cognitive Behavior is Goal-Oriented

Because this therapy takes a structured approach to resolving the core issues causing certain behaviors, the therapist and patient are able to set definable goals. This is one of the therapy’s chief benefits, since it can enable patients to achieve measurable results in far less time than other forms of therapy. For example, many problems can be resolved in as little as six months, with regular sessions. Therapists work in collaboration with their patients to develop an effective plan of action customized for each patient’s needs. Patients and their therapists use the results of each session to create assignments that can help to maintain the pace of progress in future sessions.

Learn more about Behavioral Therapy at Family Center for Recovery

For the millions of people who have experienced cognitive behavior therapy, the results are often far greater than they ever imagined to be possible. By focusing on thought processes and coping strategies, the therapist and patient collaborate to redefine that patient’s response to specific triggering events and situations. That approach to problem-solving has yielded positive results for the clear majority of patients who have experienced this therapy, which is why cognitive behavior therapy continues to be an ever-more popular choice for anyone seeking relief from mental health concerns.

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