Cognitive behavioral therapy: Problem-solving psychotherapy



It’s certainly not the friendliest-sounding word.  Thanks to slang and the movies, the first half of the word is more or less an epithet. In reality, “psycho” comes from the Greek word “psykho,” which means “mental,” leaving us with “mental therapy.” That’s exactly what psychotherapy is.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says that psychotherapy is also known as “talk therapy.” Talk therapy involves patients speaking to a trained professional in a safe, confidential environment to explore their behaviors and feelings.

Psychotherapy also works ­– and often does so without medication. A 2013 study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine reviewed 198 studies involving over 15,000 patients who were receiving one of seven types of psychotherapy. The researchers found that all seven forms of therapy were equally effective in treating depression, and they were better at reducing depression’s symptoms than the usual care.

There are many types of psychotherapy, but one of the most common examples of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT provides patients with tools to focus on – and solve – their current problems.

Where CBT comes from

Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, M.D., a psychotherapist. While treating patients, Beck often noticed that his patients seemed to be engaged in dialogue with themselves during his sessions, but his patients would only reveal a small portion of these thoughts with him. Although his patients weren’t always completely aware of the thoughts – which Beck called “automatic thoughts” – they could be trained to identify and report them. By doing this, Beck realized that patients could understand and overcome their problems.

Beck called this “cognitive therapy.” Later, behavioral techniques were introduced, leading to modern CBT.

How CBT works

CBT differs from other psychotherapy forms as it focuses on finding solutions for current problems. It’s not a therapy that will give a patient insight into the “why” of their problem, but it will teach them how to overcome them.

For example, CBT can help someone examine their thought processes and gain perspective. High-achieving students who have been praised for their hard work might develop a thought pattern that makes them think they must constantly succeed in order to be of value to themselves and others. A disappointing test result or a missed assignment might cause automatic thoughts of failure and rejection.

The problem with automatic thoughts is that they’re often unrealistic, colored by negative emotions and assumptions. A negative frame of mind can make simple problems (a bad grade) with simple solutions (asking for help) seem insurmountable, leading to continued problems – like avoiding school entirely. CBT can help such students view those automatic thoughts for what they are and find new, positive ways to deal with setbacks. Studies have shown that in some cases, CBT can actually rewire people’s brains.

Patients undergoing CBT often receive “homework” assignments from their therapist. A common assignment involves the patient keeping a record of their negative automatic thoughts. Writing them down helps the patient weigh any evidence for or against them.

Anxiety and depression are serious mental disorders that can interfere with life and education. Fortunately, both respond well to treatments like CBT. If left untreated, they can lead to more serious problems, including substance abuse.

White River Academy uses CBT in a therapeutic boarding school environment for boys aged 12 to 17. Our staff consists of compassionate, driven experts in education and therapy who can help your son through his problems and into a successful life. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. 

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