What Principle Underlies Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

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Medically reviewed by Neal Swartz

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If you’ve ever had or considered getting some kind of therapy, you will most likely have heard of cognitive behavioral therapy – more commonly known as CBT. 

CBT is one of the most popular, widely researched, and effective forms of talk therapy, and one that our therapists at REACH Behavioral Health use regularly to help people of all ages overcome all kinds of different struggles and mental health issues. 

The core principle that underlies cognitive behavioral therapy is that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are inextricably linked. And it’s our thoughts and perceptions – which are often incorrect or influenced by unhelpful inner beliefs – that cause our subsequent emotions and behaviors, rather than our emotions and behaviors always being caused by external factors. 

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to learn how to identify and recognize these negative thought patterns. Because by recognizing them, we have the power to change them – and that can lead to positive and lasting changes in the way we think, feel, and behave. 

In this article, we’ll explain more about exactly how cognitive behavioral therapy works, who it can help, the principles that underlie CBT, and what to expect from this type of therapy. 

At REACH Behavioral Health Ohio, CBT is one of the primary types of talk therapy we offer our clients, helping them to navigate and overcome a wide range of both mental health and everyday concerns. 

If you live in Ohio and are interested to know how CBT could help you enjoy a happier and healthier life, don’t hesitate to get in touch and find out more. 

What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. 

It’s one of the most common forms of psychotherapy for treating a wide range of mental health problems, and is empirically proven to be one of the most effective

CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected, and that by recognizing these negative and often irrational thought patterns, we have the power to change them, and subsequently the way we feel and behave.

CBT is usually a short-term and goal-oriented therapy. Therapists work collaboratively with clients to help them recognize patterns of thinking or behavior that may be contributing to their difficulties, and then teach them strategies to effectively change these patterns in the long term. 

What conditions can CBT treat?

CBT is effective at treating a wide variety of conditions, either alone or in combination with other types of therapy or medication. This includes: 

However, you don’t need a medical diagnosis or recognized mental health concern to benefit from CBT. It can also help with a wide range of everyday problems, such as dealing with grief, learning to cope with stressful situations, to manage powerful emotions, cope with physical health problems, resolve conflicts, and much more. 

CBT is also a suitable form of therapy for people of all ages, including teenagers and younger children. 

What principle underlies cognitive behavioral therapy?

The core principle that underlies CBT is the understanding that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all linked and influencing each other.

CBT is also based on the principle that our actions and emotions are more greatly influenced by our perception of an event than the reality of the event itself. 

This means that we can easily react to situations negatively due to thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that are not necessarily true or rational, which in turn will lead to negative emotions and subsequently to negative actions or behaviors. Whereas if we are able to react to that same situation more positively and rationally, our subsequent emotions and behaviors are also more positive. 

The goal of CBT is therefore to help people recognize and understand their current ways of thinking and behaving – in particular, to recognize inaccurate core beliefs, dysfunctional assumptions, and negative thought patterns – and learn to challenge and reframe those thoughts more rationally and positively, which in turn will positively impact their behaviors.

The 3 C’s behind positive CBT exercises

CBT is a highly collaborative form of therapy that involves a therapist ultimately giving their clients the tools to challenge and rewire their own negative thought and behavior patterns. 

The therapy sessions themselves can include a wide variety of different techniques, but the most simplified version of CBT – and what many of the different techniques in CBT ultimately all boil down to – is what’s known as the 3 C’s Method: Catch, Check, Change:

  • Catch: learn to notice and identify the thoughts that are leading to your emotions. The best way to do this is to use your emotions as “cues” to stop and look at the thought that has led to it. 
  • Check: Stop and reflect on this thought, and how accurate, truthful, or helpful it really is. 
  • Change: Actively reframe the thought to something more accurate, positive, and helpful. 

Essentially, CBT is about breaking the cycle of negative and unhelpful thoughts and behavior. While it takes time and practice to be able to do this effectively, your therapist will use various techniques during your sessions to help you learn to do this – at first with their support, but eventually on your own. 

What are the techniques used in CBT?

Many different techniques are used in CBT, and therapists will choose the best and most suitable ones for each individual.

Some of the most common and effective techniques include: 

  • Guided discovery
  • Cognitive restructuring or reframing
  • Journaling and thought records
  • Exposure therapy
  • Activity scheduling and behavior activation 
  • Behavioral experiments
  • Worst case/best case/most-likely case scenario
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy 
  • Role-playing 
  • Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques 
  • Successive approximation 

What to expect from cognitive behavioral therapy 

CBT is a structured and collaborative form of therapy aimed at addressing a person’s specific mental health concerns and achieving meaningful goals. 

It can be done in person or via teletherapy, and is equally effective in either manner, so you can choose the option that is more comfortable and convenient for you. 

Another core principle of cognitive behavioral therapy is that it requires active participation and effort in order to benefit from the treatment. There is just as much emphasis put on the work that needs doing outside of the therapy session as during, so “homework” is a common aspect of CBT. 

Unlike a lot of other types of talk therapy, CBT is generally focused on what’s happening in your present life, rather than your past. It’s about looking at your current problems and specific situations that you find challenging or distressing, and helping you find ways to solve them by identifying and modifying unhelpful perceptions, beliefs, thought patterns, and behaviors.

CBT is also a time-based treatment, which means it’s not designed to be ongoing. Instead, the focus is on giving you the tools and skills to be able to manage your symptoms yourself in the long term. Exact timeframes will vary by person, but many mental health conditions and problems can be treated with CBT in around 6 to 14 sessions. 

Experience healing through CBT at REACH, Ohio

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used forms of therapy for good reason: it works. 

Whether you’re struggling with specific mental health concerns or simply the stresses of daily life, CBT is a powerful form of therapy that has the potential to transform your life. 

Our counselors and therapists at REACH will use a range of proven CBT techniques to help you understand the root causes of your thoughts and behaviors, and give you the tools to identify and change the beliefs and behaviors that are not serving you. 

If you live in Ohio and want to explore how CBT might be able to help you break negative patterns or improve your mental health, contact us today

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