Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
by Saul McLeod published 2008
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used to treat people with a wide range of mental health problems.
CBT is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behavior) all interact together. Specifically, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behavior.
Therefore, negative - and unrealistic - thoughts can cause us distress and result in problems. When a person suffers with psychological distress, the way in which they interpret situations becomes skewed, which in turn has a negative impact on the actions they take.
CBT aims to help people become aware of when they make negative interpretations, and of behavioral patterns which reinforce the distorted thinking. Cognitive Therapy helps people to develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving which reduce the psychological distress.
Cognitive behavioral Therapy is, in fact, an umbrella term for many different therapies that share some common elements.
Two of the earliest forms of Cognitive behavioral Therapy were Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950s, and Cognitive Therapy, developed by Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s.
Cognitive Therapy Assumptions:
• Abnormal behavior is caused by abnormal thinking processes
• We interact with the world through our mental representation of it
• If our mental representations are inaccurate or our ways of reasoning are inadequate then our emotions and behavior may become disordered
The cognitive therapist teaches clients how to identify distorted cognitions through a process of evaluation. The clients learn to discriminate between their own thoughts and reality. They learn the influence that cognition has on their feelings, and they are taught to recognize observe and monitor their own thoughts.
The behavior part of the therapy involves setting homework for the client to do (e.g. keeping a diary of thoughts). The therapist gives the client tasks that will help them challenge their own irrational beliefs. The idea is that the client identifies their own unhelpful beliefs and them proves them wrong. As a result, their beliefs begin to change. For example, someone who is anxious in social situations may be set a homework assignment to meet a friend at the pub for a drink.
Differences between REBT and Beck’s Cognitive Therapy
• Albert Ellis views the therapist as a teacher and does not think that a warm personal relationship with a client is essential. In contrast, Beck stresses the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
• REBT is often highly directive, persuasive and confrontive. Beck places more emphasis on the client discovering misconceptions for themselves.
• REBT uses different methods depending on the personality of the client, in Beck’s cognitive therapy, the method is based upon the particular disorder.
Strengths of CBT
1. Model has great appeal because it focuses on human thought. Human cognitive abilities has been responsible for our many accomplishments so may also be responsible for our problems.
2. Cognitive theories lend themselves to testing. When experimental subjects are manipulated into adopting unpleasant assumptions or thought they became more anxious and depressed (Rimm & Litvak, 1969).
3. Many people with psychological disorders, particularly depressive , anxiety , and sexual disorders have been found to display maladaptive assumptions and thoughts (Beck et al., 1983).
4. Cognitive therapy has been very effective for treating depression, and moderately effective for anxiety problems.
Limitations of CBT
1. The precise role of cognitive processes is yet to be determined. The maladaptive cognitions seen in psychologically disturbed people could be a consequence rather than a cause.
2. The cognitive model is narrow in scope - thinking is just one part of human functioning, broader issues need to be addressed.
3. Ethical issues: RET is a directive therapy aimed at changing cognitions sometimes quite forcefully. For some, this may be considered an unethical approach.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). . Retrieved from
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