CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

woodbrainby Jen L’Insalata

In most psychotherapeutic environments the term CBT is tossed around all the time. CBT in research; my insurance providers prefer CBT; CBT; CBT; CBT. So what is this CBT stuff? CBT is short for cognitive behavioral therapy and essentially addresses both thoughts and the underlying emotions that influence behavior. This is achieved by bringing together components of both cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy is a direct and effective manner.

Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy is centered on the concept that human behavior serves a function and results from stimuli within the individual’s environment. Behaviors result in response to environmental stimuli and behavioral patterns result from the reinforcement or punishment received from the interaction between the individual and their particular environment. The psychosociocultural viewpoint encompasses a wide range of therapeutic strategies that aim to change the environmental factors that stimulate maladaptive behaviors (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive theory is a theory of personality in which individuals respond to life events cognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally. An individual perceives, interoperates, and assigns meaning to particular life events. Maladaptive behaviors and affects are caused due to the misinterpretation of stimuli, situations, and events. Cognitive therapy aims to adjust the way the individual processes incoming information by examining the individual’s belief about their self, the world, and others (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Five Concepts That Add Dimension

Both behavior and cognitive therapy recognize that personality is consistent and an individual’s response to environmental stimuli can be predicted. Behavior therapy acknowledges five core domains from which personality can be assessed. Behavior therapy teaches flexibility within an individual’s personality domains and introduces healthy coping mechanisms and responses for environmental stimuli (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Cognitive therapy recognizes schemas to explain and predict responses to environmental stimuli and situational cues.  A network of affective, motivational, and behavioral schemas known as modes asses and interoperate situations. Some modes are rooted in instinct and are referred to as primal modes. Primal modes are often ridged, automatic, and absolute. Primal thinking leads to maladaptive behavior. Cognitive therapy teaches a client to consciously override primal modes through means of deliberate thinking and problem solving (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Behavior therapy focuses on the behaviors and actions that are conditioned responses to external stimuli. Cognitive therapy focuses on the affect and mental interpretation of a particular stimuli (Zaretsky, Segal, & Fefergrad, 2007). Due to similarities, behavior therapy and cognitive therapy are often combined in a treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT targets the bias mental interpretations acknowledged in cognitive therapy and teaches the client to regulate emotions causing maladaptive behaviors (Harvey, Bélanger, Talbot, Eidelman, Beaulieu-Bonneau, Fortier-Brochu, & … Morin, 2014).

CBT is often used as a primary treatment for depression and mood disorders.  By leveraging a client’s awareness of the changes in their cognition, (Zaretsky, Segal, & Fefergrad, 2007) treatment techniques encompassing mindfulness, relaxation, meditation, exposure, (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014) and modeling teach the client ways to regulate their affect and reduce symptoms (Zaretsky, Segal, & Fefergrad, 2007).

When addressing depression, cognitive therapy addresses the client’s negative views of one’s self, their experiences, and future. A client’s interpretation of their environment is often bleak and the client maintains a pessimistic bias toward themselves and their future. Motivational symptoms appear such as a lack of energy and sometimes paralysis that inhibits the completion of everyday life tasks. Increasing activity and social exposure combined with combating negative interpretations of situations are used to alleviate the cognitive components of depression (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Behavior therapy addresses the conditioned response to stimuli. Behaviors increase due to reinforcement (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014). Maladaptive coping strategies and behaviors continue to reinforce depressive behaviors. Treatments focused on positive social exposure and activity work to reinforce positive experiences for the depressed individual and reduce exposure to negative experiences such as isolation. Exposure to positive stimuli aids in reinforcing non-depressive behaviors (Ryba, Lejuez, & Hopko, 2014).

Modeling behaviors occurs when an individual observers others in a sociocultural environment. Anxiety or phobias are maladaptive behaviors that can be learned through modeling abuse (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014). If an individual observes a social fear or anxiety about a particular situation, it is likely to be interoperated as a truth. An individual may model the anxious or phobic behavior learned from observation.

Behavior therapy addresses the hyperarousal brought on by anxiety and phobia by combining exposure and relaxation training. Practicing relaxation techniques while exposed to environmental stimuli helps alleviate the physical stress and tension associated with phobia and anxiety. Cognitive therapy teaches an individual to reevaluate the particular stimuli and interoperate it as less threatening (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014).

Substance abuse is often coupled with depression and anxiety. The recognition of psychosocial factors maintain the maladaptive belief and subsequent behaviors are addressed by combining cognitive and behavioral therapies (Harvey, Bélanger, Talbot, Eidelman, Beaulieu-Bonneau, Fortier-Brochu, & … Morin, 2014). Substance abuse may begin as a molded socioenvironmental behavior and become reinforced through positive social experiences. Reinforcement of addictive behaviors may be reinforced when a client engages in self-medication to alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.

Stimulus control is a behavioral technique that can be used to help individuals with substance abuse issues and addiction. Principles of classical conditioning state that conditioned cues illicit behavioral responses.  Stimulus control aims to correct the problems associated with a particular stimuli (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014). For example, a client may associate a place or event with the acquisition and consumption of substances. Clients are encouraged to avoid places and situations which are cues for their addiction.



Wedding, D., & Corsini, R. J. (Eds.). (2014). Current psychotherapies (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. ISBN: 9781285083711.

Zaretsky, A., Segal, Z., & Fefergrad, M. (2007). New developments in cognitive-behavioural therapy for mood disorders.Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 52(1), 3-4. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/222807541?accountid=27965

Harvey, A. G., Bélanger, L., Talbot, L., Eidelman, P., Beaulieu-Bonneau, S., Fortier-Brochu, É., & … Morin, C. M. (2014). Comparative efficacy of behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavior therapy for chronic insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 82(4), 670-683. doi:10.1037/a0036606

Ryba, M. M., Lejuez, C. W., & Hopko, D. R. (2014). Behavioral activation for depressed breast cancer patients: The impact of therapeutic compliance and quantity of activities completed on symptom reduction. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 82(2), 325-335. doi:10.1037/a0035363

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.