Cognitive behavioral therapy

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an umbrella-term for psychotherapeutic systems that deal with cognitions, interpretations, beliefs and responses, with the aim of influencing problematic emotions and behaviors. CBT can be seen as a general term for many different therapies that share some common elements and theoretical underpinnings[1].

CBT is widely accepted as an evidence- and empiricism-based, cost-effective psychotherapy for many disorders and psychological problems. It is often used with groups of people as well as individuals, and the techniques are also commonly adapted for self-help manuals and, increasingly, for self-help software packages. One of the objectives of CBT typically is to identify and monitor thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that are related and accompanied to debilitating negative emotions and to identify those which are dysfunctional, inaccurate, or simply unhelpful. This is done in an effort to replace or transcend them with more realistic and useful ones. CBT was primarily developed out of Behavior Modification, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and has become widely used to treat various kinds of psychopathology, including mood disorders and anxiety disorders and has many clinical and non-clinical applications.

Approaches and systems within CBT

Perhaps the most well known approaches and therapeutic systems within CBT include Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Modification, Reality Therapy and Multimodal Therapy. One of the earliest forms of Cognitive Behavior Therapy was Rational Therapy pioneered by Albert Ellis in the early 1950s. Ellis eventually called his system Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy in the mid 1990s, or REBT. It was partly founded as a reaction against popular psychotherapeutic theories at the time, mainly psychoanalysis.[2] Aaron T. Beck, inspired by Ellis, developed another CBT approach, called Cognitive Therapy, in the 1960s.[3] Cognitive therapy rapidly became a favorite intervention to study in psychotherapy research in academic settings. In initial studies, it was often contrasted with behavioral treatments to see which was most effective. In recent years, however, cognitive and behavioral techniques have often been combined into cognitive behavioral treatment. This is arguably the primary type of psychological treatment being studied in research today.

Concurrently with the pioneering contributions of Ellis and Beck, starting in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, Arnold A. Lazarus developed what was arguably the first form of "Broad-Spectrum" Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. Indeed, in 1958, Arnold Lazarus was the first person to introduce the terms "behavior therapy" and "behavior therapist" into the professional literature (i.e., Lazarus, A. A. "New methods in psychotherapy: a case study". South African Medical Journal, 1958, 32, 660-664).[citation needed] He later broadened the focus of behavioral treatment to incorporate cognitive aspects (e.g., see Arnold Lazarus' 1971 landmark book Behavior Therapy and Beyond, perhaps the first clinical text on CBT). When it became clear that optimizing therapy's effectiveness and effecting durable treatment outcomes often required transcending more narrowly focused cognitive and behavioral methods, Arnold Lazarus expanded the scope of CBT to include physical sensations (as distinct from emotional states), visual images (as distinct from language-based thinking), interpersonal relationships, and biological factors. The final product of Arnold Lazarus' approach to psychotherapy is called Multimodal Therapy and is, perhaps, the most comprehensive form of CBT in addition to REBT that also shares many of the same assumptions and theorizing.

Other types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy include Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Self-Instructional Training, Schema-Focused Therapy and many others.[4] Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy (CBGT) is also a similar approach in treating clinical conditions, based on the protocol by Richard Heimberg.[5]

Treatments and applications of CBT

CBT is applied to large amount of clinical and non-clinical conditions and has been successfully used to the treatments of many clinical disorders, personality conditions and behavioral problems.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Many CBT-approaches seeks to treat OCD, this may include use of classical conditioning through extinction (a type of conditioning) and habituation.


See also Depressive disorder

Theory of depression according to CT

One etiological theory of depression is the Aaron Beck cognitive theory of depression. His theory is regarded as the most verified psychological theory of depression. His theory states that depressed people think the way they do because their thinking is biased towards negative interpretations. According to this theory, depressed people acquire a negative schema of the world in childhood and adolescence. (Children and adolescents who suffer from depression acquire this negative schema earlier.) Depressed people acquire such schemas through a loss of a parent, rejection of peers, criticism from teachers or parents, the depressive attitude of a parent and other negative events. When the person with such schemas encounters a situation that resembles in some way, even remotely, the conditions in which the original schema was learned, the negative schemas of the person are activated. [6]

Beck also included a negative triad in his theory. A negative triad is made up of the negative schemas and cognitive biases of the person; Beck theorized that depressed individuals make negative evaluations of themselves, the world, and the future. Depressed people, according to this theory, have views such as “I never do a good job,” and "things will never get better." A negative schema helps give rise to the cognitive bias, and the cognitive bias helps fuel the negative schema. This is the negative triad. Also, Beck proposed that depressed people often have the following cognitive biases: arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, overgeneralization, magnification and minimization. These cognitive biases are quick to make negative, generalized, and personal inferences of the self, thus fueling the negative schema.[7]

Hopelessness Theory of depression

Another cognitive theory of depression is the Hopelessness Theory of depression. This is the latest theory of the helpless/hopeless theories of depression, stating that hopelessness depression is caused by a state of hopelessness. A state of hopelessness develops when the person believes that no good outcomes are possible, only negative ones. The person also feels that he or she has no ability to change the situation to allow for a positive outcome. Stressors (negative life events) are thought to interact with a diathesis (in this case, a predisposing factor to depression) to create a sense of hopelessness.[8]

Some proposed diatheses are attributing negative events to stable and global factors, low self-esteem, and a tendency to believe that negative life events will have severe negative consequences. Such diatheses increase the possibility that a person will experience hopelessness depression.

Attributional style

An approach to depression based upon attribution theory in social psychology is related to the concept of attributional style. First advanced by Lyn Abramson and her colleagues in 1978, this approach argues that depressives have a typical attributional style —they tend to attribute negative events in their lives to stable and global characteristics of themselves.[9] This theory is sometimes known as a revised version of learned helplessness theory.

In 1989, this theory was challenged by Hopelessness Theory.[10] This theory emphasized attributions to global and stable factors, rather than, as in the original model, internal attributions. Hopelessness Theory also emphasizes that beliefs about the consequences of events, and rated importance of events, may be at least as important as causal attributions in understanding why some people react to negative events with clinical depression.

CBT with children and adolescents

The use of CBT has been extended to children and adolescents with good results. It is often used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and symptoms related to trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Significant work has been done in this area by Mark Reinecke and his colleagues at Northwestern University in the Clinical Psychology program in Chicago. Paula Barrett and her colleagues have also validated CBT as effective in a group setting for the treatment of youth and child anxiety using the Friends Program she authored. This CBT program has been recognized as best practice for the treatment of anxiety in children by the World Health Organization.Combining the Biofeedback method with the CBT process is very effective. [11] CBT has been used with children and adolescents to treat a variety of conditions with good success.[12][13]

CBT is also used as a treatment modality for children who have experienced Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic maltreatment, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder[14]. It would be one component of treatment for children with C-PTSD, along with a variety of other components, which are discussed in the Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder article.

Therapeutic methodologies

The particular therapeutic techniques vary within the different approaches of CBT according to the particular kind of problem issues, but commonly may include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing cognitions, assumptions, evaluations and beliefs that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation, mindfulness and distraction techniques are also commonly included. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with mood stabilizing medications to treat conditions like bipolar disorder. Its application in treating schizophrenia along with medication and family therapy is recognized by the NICE guidelines (see below) within the British NHS.

Cognitive behavioral therapy generally is not an overnight process. Even after patients have learned to recognize when and where their mental processes go awry, it can take months of effort to replace a dysfunctional cognitive-affective-behavioral process or habit with a more reasonable and adaptive one.

The ABC-model of psychological disturbance and change

A major aid in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is what Albert Ellis calls the ABC-model.[2] In therapy the client and the therapist work through a situational episode to which a person has a significant disturbed emotional response. These situations and problems may be used to assess and map more complex and multi-layered issues.

  • A - Activating Event or adversity. This represents the situation, that is, the often inferred situational and critical event that triggers a significant emotional response.
  • B - Beliefs. These are the evaluative emotional and behavioral beliefs the client has about the adversity, related to his unique personal likes and dislikes.
  • C - Consequence. This represents the negative disturbed emotions and dysfunctional behaviors related to A and B. The beliefs and assumptions at B are seen as a connecting and mediating bridge between the situation and the unhealthy feelings and maladaptive behaviors.

For example, Gina is upset because she fails an important math test. The activating event, A then is that she failed her test and infers that she will not be able to get her degree. The evaluative belief, B about A, is that she believes in her heart and head that she absolutely always must have good grades and succeed or else it is the end of the world. The Consequence, C, is that Gina tends to feel depressed, thinking it may be no use to continue school.

  • Disputing. After a situational episode, beliefs and responses have been identified and assessed, the therapist will often work in a wide array of ways with the client in challenging and disputing the dysfunctional beliefs on the basis of evidence from the client's experience. By using many cognitive, emotive and behavioral methods and techniques the client is helped to develop and ingrain more functional and rational beliefs with succeeding healthy and adaptive responses.

In the example above, a therapist may help Gina realize that it is self-defeating and does not make sense to believe, and there is no evidence for believing, that she absolutely always must pass her tests and succeed, and that failure to do so is an absolute horror; although she normally may want and strongly prefer to pass her tests and succeed, she has alternatives, that not doing it would not be the end of the world. If she realizes that not passing her tests or having trouble getting her degree is highly unfortunate and sad, but not awful and horrible, she will tend to feel sad or frustrated, but not depressed and helpless. The sadness and frustration are then healthy negative emotions because they are more likely to make her study more effectively or deal with her problems as a response.

Computerized CBT

There are Cognitive-Behavioral therapy sessions in which the user interacts with computer software (either on a PC, or sometimes via a voice-activated phone service), instead of face to face with a therapist. It cannot replace face-to-face therapy, but it can provide an option for patients, especially in light of the fact that there are not always therapists available, or the cost can be prohibitive. Computerized CBT is clinically proven and drug-free. For people who are feeling depressed and withdrawn, the prospect of having to speak to someone about their innermost problems can be off-putting. In this respect, CCBT (especially if delivered online) can be a good option.

Randomized controlled trials have proven its effectiveness, and in February 2006 the UK's National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that CCBT be made available for use within the NHS across England and Wales, for patients presenting with mild/moderate depression, rather than immediately opting for antidepressant medication.[15]

A new UK government initiative for tackling Mental Health issues[16] has recently been launched by the Care Services Improvement Partnership.[17] This confirms Primary Care Trust (PCT) responsibilities in delivering the NICE Technology Appraisal on CCBT. National Director for Mental Health, Professor Louis Appleby CBE[18] has confirmed that by 31 March 2007 PCTs should have ST Solutions' "FearFighter" and Ultrasis' "Beating the Blues" CCBT products in place and the NICE Guidelines should be met. Some areas have developed, or are trialing, other CCBT products notably Outreach-online[19] developed in-house by the NHS and currently being trialed in North Wales (UK).

In the United States, Chicago-based Prevail Health Solutions is leading the development of computerized Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Their products are not yet offered to the general population, but currently they are engaged in ongoing efforts to determine efficacy in the treatment of several mental health disorders.

There are also Interactive computerized interventions available that provide measurable outcomes. For example, The Challenge Software Program is an interactive online program designed to help children struggling with Self-regulation and Social Skills. The program is based on Fundamental Cognitive-Behavioral principles and teaches children how to challenge unhealthy thinking patterns.

Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapies

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven in scientific studies to be effective for a wide variety of problems, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and psychotic disorders. It has been clinically demonstrated in over 400 studies to be effective for many psychiatric disorders and medical problems for both children and adolescents. It has been recommended in the UK by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as a treatment of choice for a number of mental health difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD bulimia nervosa and clinical depression. There is good evidence for CBT's effectiveness in reducing symptoms and preventing relapse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy most closely allies with the Scientist-Practitioner Model of Clinical Psychology in which clinical practice and research is informed by: a scientific perspective; clear operationalization of the "problem" or "issue"; an emphasis on measurement (and measurable changes in cognition and behavior); and measurable goal-attainment.

Anxiety disorders

For treatment of anxiety, a meta-analysis of 35 studies[20]shows the psychological method of cognitive behavioral therapy to be more effective in the long term than pharmacologic treatment (drugs such as SSRIs), and while both treatments reduce anxiety, CBT is more effective in reducing depression.

Mood disorders

For treatment of depression, a large-scale study in 2000[21] showed substantially higher results of response and remission (73% for combined therapy vs. 48% for either CBT or a particular discontinued antidepressant alone) when a form of cognitive behavior therapy and that particular discontinued anti-depressant drug were combined than when either modality was used alone.

For more general results confirming that CBT alone can provide lower but nonetheless valuable levels of relief from depression, and result in increased ability for the patient to remain in employment, see The Depression Report,[22] which states: 1000 people attend up to sixteen weekly sessions one-on-one lasting one hour each, some will drop out but within four months 50 people will have lost their psychiatric symptoms over and above those who would have done so anyway. After recovery, people who suffered from anxiety are unlikely to relapse. . . . So how much depression can a course of CBT relieve, and how much more work will result? One course of CBT is likely to produce 12 extra months free of depression. This means nearly two months more of work.

The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines (April 2000) indicated that among psychotherapeutic approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy had the best-documented efficacy for treatment of major depressive disorder, although they noted that rigorous evaluative studies had not been published.[23]


Cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to be effective in reducing benzodiazepine usage in the treatment of insomnia. A large-scale trial utilising cognitive behavioural therapy in chronic users of sedative hypnotics including nitrazepam, temazepam and zopiclone found the addition of CBT to improve outcome and reduce drug consumption in the treatment of chronic insomnia. Persisting improvements in sleep quality, sleep latency, and increased total sleep, as well as improvements in sleep efficiency and significant improvements in vitality and physical and mental health at 3-, 6- and 12-month follow-ups were found in those receiving cognitive behavioural therapy with hypnotics compared with those patients receiving hypnotics alone. A marked reduction in total sedative hypnotic drug use was found in those receiving CBT, with 33% reporting no hypnotic drug use. Authors of the study suggested that CBT is potentially a flexible, practical, and cost-effective treatment for the treatment of insomnia and that CBT administered coincident to hypnotic treatment leads to a reduction of benzodiazepine drug intake in a significant number of patients.[24]

It is widely accepted that hypnotic drug usage beyond 4 weeks is undesirable for all age groups of patients. Many continuous sedative hypnotic users exhibit disturbed sleep as a consequence of tolerance but experience worsening rebound or withdrawal insomnia when the dose is reduced too quickly, which compounds the problem of chronic hypnotic drug use. No formal withdrawal programs for benzodiazepines exist with local providers in the United Kingdom. Temazepam, nitrazepam and zopiclone (not a benzodiazepine) are the most frequently prescribed hypnotics in the United Kingdom.

Notable Behavioral Theorists

Notable Contributors to Modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Therapeutic systems within CBT

  • Behavioral activation (BA)
  • Cognitive Therapy (CT)
  • Computerised Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT)
  • Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Further reading

  • Beck, A. (1993). Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. NY: Penguin. ISBN 9780452009288
  • Willson R., & Branch R. (2006). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies. For Dummies.
  • Dryden W. (1994). 'Ten Steps to Positive Living'. Sheldon Press
  • Burns D. (1999). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (Revised Edition). Avon. ISBN 0-380-81033-6
  • Ellis A (2001). Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573928793
  • Tanner S., & Ball J (2001). Beating the Blues: A Self-help Approach to Overcoming Depression. ISBN 0-646-36622-X
  • McCullough J.P. (2003). Treatment for Chronic Depression: Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP)'. Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-965-2
  • Albano M., & Kearney C. (2000). When children refuse school: a cognitive behavioral therapy approach: Therapist guide. Psychological Corporation.
  • Deblinger, E. & Heflin, A. (1996) . Treating sexually abused children and their non-offending parents: a cognitive behavioral approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.
  • Leahy, R.L. and Holland, SJ. (2000). Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders. New York: Guilford


  1. "A Guide to Understanding Cognitive and Behavioural Psychotherapies" British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. Retrieved on 2007-1-11
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ellis, Albert (1975). A New Guide to Rational Living. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-370650-8. 
  3. Beck, Aaron T. Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. International Universities Press Inc., 1975. ISBN 0-8236-0990-1
  4. What is CBT? …What’s in a Name?. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Retrieved on 2007-01-11.
  5. Group Therapy. Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey. Retrieved on 2006-06-25.
  6. Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology, 8th edition, page 247. 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  7. Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology, 8th edition, page 248. 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  8. Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology, 8th edition, pages 249. 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  9. Abramson, L., Seligman, M.E.P. & Teasdale, J. (1978). Learned Helplessness in Humans: Critique and Reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87 pp49-74
  10. Abramson, L. et al: Hopelessness depression: a theory-based subtype of depression, Psychol Rev 96:358, 1989.
  11. [ Biofeedback You Are In Control], Dr.Yigal Gliksman. 
  12. (2005-12-05) in Kendall, Philip C. (ed).: Child and Adolescent Therapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Procedures, 3rd, Guilford Press. ISBN 1-59385-113-8. 
  13. (2003-05-02) in Reinecke, Mark A.; Dattilio, Frank M.; Freeman, A. (eds).: Cognitive Therapy with Children and Adolescents: A Casebook for Clinical Practice, 2nd, Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-853-2. 
  14. (2006) "Chapter 7, "Cognitive Interventions"", in Briere, John; Scott, Catherine (eds).: Principles of Trauma Therapy. Sage, 109-119. ISBN 0-7619-2921-5. 
  15. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (2006). Depression and anxiety - computerised cognitive behavioural therapy.
  17. CSIP: Home
  18. Louis Appleby CBE (School of Medicine - University of Manchester)
  19. Outreach-online, CBT@Home - CCBT and Guided Online Self-Help for Stress, Anxiety & Depression
  21. Keller, M. et al. A Comparison of Nefazodone, the Cognitive Behavioral-Analysis System of Psychotherapy, and Their Combination for the Treatment of Chronic Depression. New England Journal of Medicine Volume 342:1462-1470 May 18, 2000.
  22. The Depression Report: A New Deal for Depression and Anxiety Disorders. The Centre for Economic Performance's Mental Health Policy Group (2006-06-19). Retrieved on 2006-06-25.
  23. Treatment Recommendations for Patients with Major Depressive Disorder (Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, Second Edition). American Psychiatric Association (2000). Retrieved on 2006-07-02.
  24. Morgan K; Dixon S, Mathers N, Thompson J, Tomeny M (Feb 2004). "Psychological treatment for insomnia in the regulation of long-term hypnotic drug use" (PDF). Health Technol Assess 8 (8): 1–68. National Institute for Health Research. PMID 14960254.

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