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What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) uses a combination of both cognitive and behavioral techniques. Cognitive therapy focuses on the idea that people can be taught to think in more effective ways, while behavioral therapy works under the premise that human behaviors are learned and therefore can be unlearned. The combined approach not only provides a means of changing the ways people view themselves and their environment (cognitions), but also the way they act in that environment (behaviors).

Cognitive therapy teaches the patient to become aware of the connection between their thoughts and moods. This is achieved by learning to monitor negative thoughts that are typically exaggerated. Patients then are given strategies to substitute these thoughts with more reality based ideas. Once the patient has an understanding of the thoughts fueling their fears or negative feelings, they are encouraged to complete tasks that involve confronting their fears and reacting in more positive ways. This can be scary so treatment always begins with low demand tasks working up to the more difficult ones.

For example, consider a person who is very fearful of public speaking. Almost always, underlying such a fear is the irrational belief that it will be disastrous if they do not perform well. Teaching the person to think more rationally in the situation will result in lessening the feeling of anxiety. The goal is learning to replace catastrophic thinking with more reasonable or rational thinking.

The basis for behavioral therapy is that when you change the way you behave, emotions and corresponding beliefs will follow, not just the other way around. Behavior that has a favorable outcome will be repeated therefore behaviors can be learned and unlearned through experience. Positive reinforcement is often used as an effective tool in behavioral therapy while punishment is never utilized.

Combining cognitive and behavioral therapies creates a balanced and effective approach to understanding and treating many psychological problems. In the treatment of phobias and anxiety, CBT provides the patient with tools for relaxation combined with desensitization to the feared object or situation. Desensitization teaches the patient to react in positive ways through repeated exposure and practice. As a result of genetics and experience, individuals respond in predictable ways to certain external factors or life events. The CBT therapist teaches the patient to alter the way they react to certain stimuli, resulting in positive and long lasting change. Although making these changes can seem difficult, learning to challenge long held belief systems has proven extremely effective with long term positive results.

As opposed to other therapies, CBT techniques are known to generate results that are both durable and quick. On average, CBT therapy takes six months to a year, while other more traditional forms of therapy can take years and are frequently open-ended. The harder working patient will see results more quickly, especially if what is learned during sessions is practiced outside of the office. The therapist and client will ultimately decide together an appropriate time to conclude treatment. Patients are often surprised to hear their therapists hinting at termination issues, something not typically expected from a therapist. Although Behavioral Associates provides a wide range of services, CBT provides the backbone for the vast majority of our treatment. CBT allows us to work with patients to set tangible goals within a reasonable time frame.

Contact us or call our office at (212) 860-8500 to learn if Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the right treatment for you.

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