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What is Cognitive Therapy?

Nicole Madison
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to treat depression, anxiety, and a full range of other mental disorders. Cognitive therapy operates under the principle that thoughts, belief systems, and biases influence both the emotions an individual experiences and the intensity of those emotions. This type of therapy involves recognizing and changing detrimental thought patterns and reactions.

Though the effect of negative thinking on emotions may seem obvious, many individuals don't realize the impact such thought patterns have on their activities. For example, after experiencing a setback in an activity or pursuit, a person may begin to think he or she will never succeed. As a result, the individual may become depressed and avoid similar activities in the future.

Pioneered by Aaron Beck, M.D, this kind of therapy was originally used solely for the treatment of depression. Later, Dr. Beck and other researchers went on to develop methods for its application to many other psychiatric issues, including substance abuse and anger-management difficulties. Originally, this therapy modality was often compared with behavioral therapy in studies of psychotherapeutic treatments. Today, however, these techniques are often combined in a method called cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive therapy involves replacing negative, maladaptive thoughts with positive and realistic ones. This treatment is not as simple as just having the patient think positive thoughts, however. Often, negative thought patterns are firmly entrenched in an individual's psyche. Frequently, these thoughts occur automatically, without the awareness of the individual experiencing them.

Changing negative thought patterns often requires a process of identifying the undesirable beliefs an individual has about himself and others. Once detrimental thoughts have been identified, the affected individual must learn to dispute them. Essentially, this therapy requires the patient to develop new skills, including those involved in monitoring thought streams and subjecting attitudes and biases to more realistic reasoning. The goal is to make the use of these skills second nature.

This kind of therapy can be lengthy. Change does not happen overnight. Some patients may experience satisfactory results in months, while for others, change may happen over years. However, when the patient makes an effort to use skills developed through therapy in their real life, this method can bring about real and positive change.

Some individuals find cognitive therapy difficult at first. Often, this is due to the fact that it doesn't immediately relieve symptoms. Learning and using skills necessary to change negative thought patterns may be challenging initially. The patient's first attempts may feel awkward. However, with time and application, the outcome of this type of therapy can be well worth the effort.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By sunshine31 — On Nov 22, 2010

Sunny27- Cognitive therapy theory suggests that it is your feelings and your past behavior that will influence the course of your life.

This is why if you are dissatisfied chances are cognitive therapy can help you get on the right path.

For example, cognitive therapy for schizophrenia has proven beneficial in over 50% of the cases. The episodes experienced by those afflicted with schizophrenia have lessened significantly.

By Sunny27 — On Nov 22, 2010

SautetPan-I think that cognitive therapy in children is really effective because children learn best by behavior modification and they need direction in order to change their behavior.

Cognitive therapy behavioral therapy in children might include validity techniques and cognitive practice.

The validity techniques involve allowing the child to explain his or her theory of unworthiness that the therapist dispels as untrue because he demonstrates how illogical the position is.

Also cognitive practice is also referred to as cognitive rehearsal which allows the child an opportunity to replay the negative moment with a positive outcome.

This allows the child to learn how to act in a positive manner. For example, if the child always shouts out the answers before the teacher gets a chance to pick on someone, the therapist might ask the child that next time a teacher asks a question you should bite your lip and raise your hand.

The therapist might then go through some modeling techniques in order to allow the child to practice the new learned behavior.

This form of cognitive behavioral therapy in adolescents is also effective especially when countering the effects of bullying.

By SauteePan — On Nov 22, 2010

Cafe41-Aversion therapy is when an unpleasant stimulus is present at the same time the longed for drug of choice is present.

For example, if a person is an alcoholic, the cognitive therapy intervention might offer a nausea drug and an alcoholic drink at the same time in order to produce a systematic desensitization to the alcohol so that the patient starts to associate the negative feelings of nausea with alcohol and will eventually stop drinking.

The same could be done with overweight people that respond to trigger foods like ice cream or chocolate cake.

This does create a lasting impression that causes the brain to block that food leaving undesirable.

By cafe41 — On Nov 22, 2010

Cognitive therapy for addiction is very effective. Often people that have addictive personalities or suffer from addictions often use the addiction to hide another deeper problem.

In the cognitive therapy sessions, the therapist might use journaling as a method to isolate when the negative feelings occur that cause the patient to seek to engage in the addiction.

Reviewing the findings in the journal can also offer insight as to a pattern of behavior that exists. Cognitive therapy for addictions might involve aspects of aversion therapy too.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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