Last updated: May 10, 2008
The goal of CBT is to teach patients to break out of harmful thinking patterns by recognizing negative thoughts, testing their validity, and substituting positive (or at least more realistic) thoughts in their place. Studies have shown that the benefits of the treatment often happen abruptly, in a single session or between two sessions, when patients suddenly realize that their own negative thinking is largely responsible for their symptoms.
CBT differs from traditional talking therapy in several respects.
- Length. Unlike with psychoanalysis, which can last for years, the average number of CBT sessions is 16. The length of the therapy is often determined in advance, at the beginning of treatment.
- Structure. Most CBT therapists have a "lesson plan" for each session that includes a set of specific techniques and goals for the patient to learn.
- Homework. More so than other forms of therapy, CBT requires the patient to actively identify the triggers of their negative thinking and to "practice" alternative responses. Patients may be asked to keep a journal of their thoughts or to actively schedule challenging situations for themselves.
Research suggests that CBT is at least as effective as antidepressants for patients with major depression. The treatment has also shown promise for anxiety and other mood disorders.