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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: An Overview

girl journaling cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven and popular form of psychological treatment. A form of talk therapy, CBT effectively treats a wide range of mental health problems such as substance use disorders, depression, psychosis, anxiety disorders, trauma, panic disorder, and other forms of mental illness. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on identifying and challenging negative or unhealthy thoughts. In CBT, the client learns alternative patterns of thinking and behaving. They feel better when they replace their harmful thoughts with more accurate, helpful ones.

The Basic Beliefs of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that a person’s feelings (emotions), thoughts (cognitions), and behaviors (acts) are connected and are influenced by one another. For example, a person’s thoughts are affected by their feelings and behaviors, and their feelings are affected by their behaviors and thoughts.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy relies on core beliefs, such as:

  • Unhealthy or faulty ways of thinking are partly the cause of psychological distress.
  • Psychological problems are partly based on the patterns of unhelpful behavior people learn.
  • People in psychological distress can learn better ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Their new coping skills and habits relieve their physical and mental conditions, making them happier and more effective in their daily life.

Popular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Therapists use different cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques depending on the individual and situation. In some cases, the therapist may use one technique alone. In other cases, the therapist may use two or more together. Below are several popular CBT techniques.

Cognitive reframing or restructuring

In cognitive restructuring or reframing, therapists help people identify the negative thought patterns that cause them to behave ineffectively and experience psychological distress. Once the individual recognizes their negative thought patterns and emotions, they can positively reframe them. For example, a person may be over-generalizing or seeing minor details as having too much importance. Once they understand their thinking, they can see things from a different perspective and focus on the positive.

Exposure or graded exposure therapy

During graded exposure therapy, the therapist slowly and systematically exposes the individual to their fear. When a person has a fear, they tend to avoid any situation that causes them to face it, causing their anxiety to increase. In exposure therapy, the therapist gradually exposes the individual to what they fear. As the person faces increasing levels of what they fear, the therapist guides them on how to cope with their reactions. Over time, the person gains confidence in their ability to cope with their fear.


The therapist role-plays different situations with the individual. The different scenarios help the person practice in possible situations they may encounter, reducing their fear. Role-playing helps identify automatic thoughts the person may have. They can learn to form new ways to respond to the situation. By practicing these new skills, they modify their beliefs. Role-playing also improves communication skills, builds problem-solving skills, and boosts social skills.

Guided discovery

During guided discovery, the therapist first becomes familiar with the individual’s viewpoint. They then ask the person questions to expand their way of thinking and possibly challenge their beliefs. Sometimes the therapist will ask the person to show evidence of their way of thinking or prove their beliefs are false. The purpose of having the person show proof is to help them look at things from a different viewpoint.

Stress reduction and relaxation techniques

Stress reduction and relaxation techniques are usually used with another form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as exposure therapy. Practicing techniques such as guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation help increase the individual’s sense of control and reduce their stress level.

Activity scheduling and behavior activation

The therapist helps the individual identify and schedule helpful, positive behaviors. When activities are on a schedule, people tend to follow through on them. Types of behaviors prompted include learning a new skill, going for a walk, working on a project, or exercising. Activity scheduling and behavior activation are helpful for people who are depressed and do not want to take part in activities or for people who procrastinate.


An effective way for a person to get in touch with their thoughts and feelings is by writing. The therapist may ask the person to keep a journal describing their thoughts, behaviors, and moods. They may ask the individual to write down any new ways of thinking about or behaving toward the subject since their last session.

The Importance of Getting the Right Help

When you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, finding the right help is critical. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, our professional team will guide you through your recovery, helping you reach your goal of long-term sobriety. Now is the right time to take the first step. Call us today.

Are you looking for an AZ addiction treatment center? Learn more about programs offered at Canyon Vista Recovery Center. Contact us at (888) 979-1840

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