What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a structured, goal-oriented type of psychotherapy (talk therapy). Counselors use it to treat or manage mental health disorders and emotional concerns.

A therapist or psychologist helps you take a close look at your thoughts and emotions. You’ll come to understand how your thoughts affect your actions. Through CBT, you can unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors and learn to adopt healthier thinking patterns and habits.

CBT usually takes place over a limited number of sessions. Using a question-and-answer format, your therapist helps you gain a different perspective. As a result, you learn to respond better to stress, pain, and difficult situations.

CBT can be used alone or along with medication and other therapies. Your therapist will customize your treatment based on the issue you’re addressing.

How do I choose a therapist?

A therapist can be a medical doctor (a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medications), psychiatric nurse, psychologist, social worker, and marriage or family therapist. Talk to people you trust to give you a referral, whether it’s your personal care physician or a friend or family member. Or search online through local and state psychological associations.

Be sure that any therapist you’re looking at is a state certified and licensed mental health professional and that they treat your area of concern (for example, eating disorders, depression, marriage and family problems, anxiety, PTSD, etc.).

Most therapists’ websites list the conditions and problems they treat. If you have questions, call, text or email the therapists’ office before you choose.

What disorders and conditions does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treat?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a valuable tool for treating and managing a wide range of mental disorders and emotional challenges. People of all ages (including children) can receive CBT.

Therapists and psychologists use CBT to treat many disorders and conditions, including:

  • Mental illness: Often, people who have various mental disorders respond well to CBT. It can help people with depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When combined with medication, CBT is also useful in treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Eating disorders: CBT can help people who have bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorders.
  • Substance use disorders: People who have substance use disorders use CBT to adjust to sober living and support their recovery.
  • Sleeping disorders: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that CBT can help treat or manage.
  • Chronic pain: CBT can teach people who have fibromyalgia or other chronic pain disorders to manage pain in a new way. A new perspective may help you change how you respond to physical discomfort.
  • Everyday challenges: Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit anyone who is struggling with life’s challenges. You might seek help for issues like grief, divorce, problems at work or relationship troubles.

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