Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to treat psychological and psychiatric disorders. It is based on the idea that the patient's unhealthy behavior is the result of distorted thinking, rather than external situations or other people.
Cognitive behavioral therapy trains patients to become aware of their own damaging thoughts and to consciously alter them in productive ways. This treatment is based on the concept that as patients think more clearly, they will react more rationally, with enlightened self-interest. Cognitive behavioral therapy requires honesty and commitment, but can provide great benefits in terms of mental health.
Cognitive behavioral therapy differs from more conventional psychotherapy in the following ways:
- It focuses on a particular problem
- It is directed towards achieving a specific goal
- It involves homework and practice for the patient
Patients undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy are encouraged to notate their "automatic thoughts," self-destructive thoughts they may fall back on as default mechanisms, such as "I am useless" or "I am in terrible danger." By making a record of such troubling thoughts, discussing them openly with the therapist, and perhaps even uncovering their origin in the psyche, patients learn to find patterns of habitual thinking that they then may be able to break. Once they stop reinforcing their own illness by negative thoughts, they may become able to change longstanding self-destructive behavior.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been used successfully, often in combination with medication or other forms of psychotherapy, to treat many varieties of psychiatric illness, including:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Sleep disorders
- Body dysmorphic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Paranoia and other psychotic disorders
Studies have demonstrated that cognitive behavioral therapy actually changes brain activity in people who receive this treatment, suggesting that the brain function may actually be reprogramming itself during the course of treatment. Because there is a great deal of scientific data supporting the clinical benefits of this type of therapy, a wide range of mental health care professionals are now being trained in its usage, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, substance abuse counselors and psychiatric nurses.