Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Dr. David L. Kupfer, Ph.D.

Cognitive behavior therapy combines two effective approaches (cognitive therapy and behavior therapy) in an active, results-oriented collaboration between a therapist and a client. Research supports the effectiveness of this approach in dealing with problems that include depression, anxiety, anger, eating disorders, sleep disorders, relationship problems, and substance abuse. Progress in cognitive behavior therapy can be relatively quick, and is focused on reaching specific goals that are meaningful in the client’s life.

What is cognitive behavior therapy? Cognitive therapy teaches you how to identify and alter specific irrational beliefs that may be leading to distressing feelings or symptoms. These beliefs are quite common in our culture. They include perfectionism, a need to please all the people all the time, and a belief that we can and must change the past. Cognitive therapy also involves becoming aware of general styles of thinking that lead to dysfunction. These styles or patterns might be overgeneralizing, thinking in all-or-none ways, or taking events too personally. These general patterns can be changed as well. Clients in cognitive therapy can also learn important coping skills; these might be imagery or attention-focusing techniques that can reduce anxiety, physical pain, or anger.

Behavior therapy is an optimistic approach to personal change because it features the therapist helping the client apply the laws of learning in an effort to improve their lives. If you learned certain bad habits, then you can unlearn them and replace them with more adaptive ones. In behavior therapy, clients learn to understand the situations that have triggered maladaptive responses. They learn healthy skills, such as assertiveness or relaxation, which can be more effective responses to these trouble-making situations.

In combination, cognitive and behavior therapy can equip you with the tools you need to unlock your potential and reduce the symptoms that have troubled you. Cognitive and behavioral techniques are explained in detail to the client. The work is done at the client’s pace. This is an active approach, with the client being assigned homework (often keeping records of situations that cause problems, or irrational thoughts that can be identified), and new skills rehearsed during therapy sessions. This is a respectful and collaborative approach, with the therapist challenging the client’s beliefs in an empathic and educational manner, teaching new behavioral skills in a manner resembling that of a classroom. Good cognitive behavior therapy is flexible and tailored to the individual strengths and life situations of the client. This is a form of therapy that is focused on positive change and enhancing human growth. A cognitive behavior therapist may be interested in understanding the roots of the client’s problems, but will be primarily oriented to helping the client make changes in the present and create the potential for a better future.