What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Throughout the years there have been many theories and modalities to assist in mental health services. One of the more popular in use today is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also referred to as CBT. 

CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, in order to change the way they feel. This type of therapy is utilized to manage and treat a variety of symptoms and disfunctions such as sleeping difficulties or relationship problems, to drug and alcohol abuse or anxiety and depression. It works to change the perception and behaviors of an individual from an undesired or maladaptive manner to less harmful thoughts and actions.
This model of therapy states that it is not the event itself that happens to an individual but rather the individual’s perceptions or the way we give the event meaning, that causes undesired feelings or thoughts. It focuses on changing the negative thoughts we create after an event into more positive thoughts. When we create negative thoughts it can cause us to become stuck on old thoughts and keep us from learning new things.

Where do the negative thoughts come from?

  • It’s suggested that these negative thinking patterns are developed in childhood.
  • If a child was not presented with enough open affection from parents but was praised for performance in school may feel “I must do well for others to like me.”
  • These are known as dysfunctional assumptions or ideas.
  • Some individuals may learn to catastrophize situations.

If something happens that is out of our control a person may internalize the situation and only see the negative thoughts.

When is CBT appropriate?

Some negative thoughts are normal, but when these thoughts become consistent, disturbing, or we cause difficulty functioning in our daily lives seeking assistance may be appropriate.

How is CBT done?

  • CBT helps the person understand that there are automatic negative thoughts and prompt them to step outside their automatic thoughts and test the validity. This is the cognitive component of the therapy.
  • Sessions have a structure, rather than the person talking freely about whatever comes to mind.
  • At the beginning of the therapy, the client meets the therapist to describe specific problems and to set goals they want to work towards in a specifically created treatment plan.
  • The therapist may assign homework
    • Working on homework assignments between sessions, in this way, is a vital part of the process. What this may involve will vary.
    • This may be a diary, planner, or a variety of things that are specific to the client that will assist the client in achieving goals.
  • CBT is also focused on changing maladaptive behaviors for the client.
    • Ex: a client may be struggling to get sufficient sleep but reveals they will spend hours on their phone before bed.
  • The counselor may prompt the client to make small changes to limit the screen exposure to the client

How is CBT different from other forms of therapy?

  • CBT favors a more equal relationship that is, perhaps, more business-like, being problem-focused and practical.
  • The therapist will frequently ask the client for feedback and for their views about what is going on in therapy

Who could benefit from CBT?

  • People who describe having particular problems with specific goals are often the most suitable for CBT
  • Individuals that prefer a problem-solving approach and the need for practical self-assignments. People tend to prefer CBT if they want a more practical treatment, where gaining philosophical insight isn’t the main goal.

CBT can be effective treatment for many issues:


  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Child and adolescent problems
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse problems


  • Eating problems
  • OCD
  • PTSD
  • Sleep problems
  • Sexual and relationship issues

CBT in group settings:

  • Typically done with individuals, but can be adapted for groups or families
  • Many people find great benefit from sharing their difficulties with others who may have similar problems, even though this may seem daunting at first.
  • Group can also be a source of especially valuable support and advice, because it comes from people with personal experience of a problem
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a popular, evidence based approach to assisting individuals with a particular goal of changing their behaviors or perceptions of situations.

About the Author

Wade Stark, LPC

Wade Stark is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Elliott Counseling Group. He’s passionate about working with the school-aged and teen populations, specifically with teenage boys, as he understands the unique challenges facing this age group. Wade also has experience working with the LGBTQIA community, as well as individuals on the Autism spectrum. He works with clients experiencing anxiety, anger management issues, and personality disorders. He also enjoys working with couples on relationship and family structure issues. Wade often utilizes Solution Focused Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy with his clients.


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