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Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy or treatment for mental illness. It comes in a variety of methods, but the basic concept behind all CBT is the same -- our thoughts cause our feelings, which cause our actions. If we wish to change problematic behaviors or emotions in our lives, we need to start by changing our thoughts. CBT examines ideas and looks for patterns that may be causing harmful actions. The therapist helps patients modify those thought patterns and, in doing so, helps them feel better and cope more effectively.
CBT is one of the most widely studied forms of psychotherapy, and it has been shown to be extremely effective for a variety of mental illnesses. Some of the issues that respond well to CBT include mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and psychotic disorders. In some cases, CBT has been shown to be as effective or even more effective than medication. One of the interesting things that the scientific study of CBT has shown is that CBT actually changes the way the brain works, physically improving its function.
CBT differs from traditional psychotherapy is a few key ways. One of the most important distinctions is the emphasis on the power and responsibility of the patient in CBT. The patient will be encouraged to be the one asking the questions in CBT therapy, and most patients are assigned homework to complete outside of therapy sessions. There is a concept in CBT that we all have the power to change how we feel, even if we cannot control the situation, and this can be very empowering for patients. Because of this power shift, the therapist-client relationship is not as critical to success in CBT as it is in other modes of therapy. Patients should still get along well with their therapists, but they do not need a deep, dependant emotional connection to them. Finally, because CBT often treats a specific issue or problem, it is usually shorter in duration than traditional therapy. While some therapies may continue for years, CBT lasts on average just 16 sessions.