Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Differ From Other Depression Treatments?

The focus and method of cognitive behavioral therapy sets it apart from other, more traditional therapies:

CBT is based on two specific tasks: cognitive restructuring, in which the therapist and patient work together to change thinking patterns, and behavioral activation -- in which patients learn to overcome obstacles to participating in enjoyable activities. CBT focuses on the immediate present: what and how a person thinks more than why a person thinks that way.

  • CBT focuses on specific problems. In individual or group sessions, problem behaviors and problem thinking are identified, prioritized, and specifically addressed.
  • CBT is goal oriented. Patients working with their therapists are asked to define goals for each session as well as longer-term goals. Longer-term goals may take several weeks or months to achieve. Some goals may even be targeted for completion after the sessions come to an end.
  • The approach of CBT is educational. The therapist uses structured learning experiences that teach patients to monitor and write down their negative thoughts and mental images. The goal is to recognize how those ideas affect their mood, behavior, and physical condition. Therapists also teach important coping skills, such as problem solving and scheduling pleasurable experiences.
  • CBT patients are expected to take an active role in their learning, in the session and between sessions. They are given homework assignments at each session -- some of them graded in the beginning -- and the assignment tasks are reviewed at the start of the next session.
  • CBT employs multiple strategies, including Socratic questioning, role playing, imagery, guided discovery, and behavioral experiments.
  • CBT is time limited. Typically, treatment with CBT lasts 14 to 16 weeks.