Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders. Guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation. It was originally designed to treat depression, and is now used for a number of mental health conditions.
The CBT model is based on a combination of the basic principles from behavioral and cognitive psychology. It is different from historical approaches to psychotherapy, such as the psychoanalytic approach where the therapist looks for the unconscious meaning behind behaviors and then formulates a diagnosis. Instead, CBT is “problem-focused” and “action-oriented”, meaning it is used to treat specific problems related to a diagnosed mental disorder and the therapist’s role is to assist the client in finding and practicing effective strategies to address the identified goals and decrease symptoms of the disorder. CBT is based on the belief that thought distortions and maladaptive behaviors play a role in the development and maintenance of psychological disorders, and that symptoms and associated distress can be reduced by teaching new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms.
When compared to psychotropic medications, review studies have found CBT-alone to be as effective for treating less severe forms of depression and anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), tics, substance abuse (with the exception of opioid use disorder), eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder, and it is often recommended in combination with medications for treating other conditions, such as severeobsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and major depression, opioid addiction, bipolar, and psychotic disorders. In addition, CBT is recommended as the first line of treatment for the majority of psychological disorders in children and adolescents, including aggression and conduct disorder. Researchers have found that other bona fide therapeutic interventions were equally as effective for treating certain conditions in adults, but CBT was found to be superior in treating most disorders. Along with interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), CBT is recommended in treatment guidelines as a psychosocial treatment of choice, and CBT and IPT are the only psychosocial interventions that psychiatry residents are mandated to be trained in.