Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: What Is It and Who Can Benefit

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a powerful form of psychotherapy that can help people identify and replace negative or harmful patterns of thinking and behaving. Decades of research and clinical practice show it can be beneficial for a wide range of mental health conditions.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy is a wonderful therapy,” says Dr. Vernon Johnson, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist at Amen Clinics. “A lot of people might liken it to a kind of talk therapy, but it’s really so much more.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a powerful form of psychotherapy that can help people identify and replace negative or harmful patterns of thinking and behaving. Click To Tweet


Cognitive behavioral therapy is an action-oriented type of therapy that focuses on the way people think (cognitive) and act (behavioral).

  • CBT helps people become aware of harmful thought patterns that negatively impact behavior.
  • CBT guides them to adopt more helpful ways of thinking and behaving.
  • CBT helps people develop better coping skills to handle challenging situations.

“We have these long-term follow-up studies where we followed patients for over 30 years,” says Dr. Johnson. “It’s amazing that cognitive behavioral therapy is found to be one of the greatest treatment options in terms of offering long-term lifelong benefits.”


According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is based on the following core principles:

  • The concept that psychological issues are due, in part, to negative or harmful thinking patterns.
  • The concept that psychological conditions are due, in part, to learned patterns of behavior.
  • Individuals struggling with psychological problems can adopt healthier coping skills that can alleviate symptoms and improve their quality of life.

The key concept of CBT is that you are not stuck with negative thinking and behavioral patterns. You can change them to help overcome your symptoms.


CBT can be helpful for a wide range of mental health disorders, including but not limited to:

A wealth of research shows that CBT is one of the most effective forms of therapy. In fact, some research shows that CBT is as effective as antidepressant medication and its effects are longer lasting.

CBT can also be beneficial in helping people deal with:

  • Grief or loss
  • Insomnia
  • Relationship problems
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Stress
  • Weight problems


CBT involves a range of practical strategies to help people change their thinking and behavior patterns.

For example, therapists work closely with people to help them recognize their automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). They also provide specific techniques to help individuals challenge those unhelpful thoughts.

“CBT is really teaching us how to process our own thoughts, especially to identify negative and intrusive thoughts that might trigger anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Vernon. “As we deal with those negative thoughts, it helps us break them down, analyze them, and do our own critical review of each thought.”

By learning how to identify, question, and change negative thinking patterns, people often feel more positive. And symptoms frequently improve more quickly than with other types of psychotherapy.

Treatment with CBT also involves changing unhelpful patterns of behavior. CBT strategies that target behavioral modification include:

  • Facing fears head-on
  • Engaging in role playing to learn how to handle challenging situations
  • Learning relaxation techniques to help calm the mind and body

Depending on an individual’s needs, cognitive behavioral therapy may include some or all of these techniques.


At Amen Clinics, the physicians have identified 9 types of ANT species that contribute to anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, and other mental health issues.

  1. All or Nothing—believing that everything is either all good or all bad
  2. Less Than—comparing yourself to others and feeling less than others
  3. Just the Bad—focusing only on what’s bad in people or situations
  4. Guilt Beating—thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to
  5. Labeling—attaching negative labels to others or to yourself
  6. Fortune Telling—predicting the worst outcome in situations even though you have little or no evidence to support that thought
  7. Mind Reading—believing you can tell what other individuals are thinking even though they haven’t told you
  8. If Only and I’ll Be Happy When—when you argue with the past and long for the future
  9. Blaming—blaming others or circumstances for your problems

These ANTs can fuel mental health problems, lead to emotional distress, cause relationship problems, and get in the way of your success.

Getting to know the types of ANTs that live inside your head is an important step in learning how to eliminate them.


Cognitive behavioral therapy treatment also goes beyond the mental health professional’s office. You will be expected to take an active part in your therapy. Together with your therapist, you will work to find the most effective self-help strategies for your needs.

Self-help techniques include:

  • Spend time writing down the unhelpful thoughts that cause distress. Reflect on them and think of positive thoughts that are more helpful.
  • Goal setting. Pinpointing your goals can be very helpful in changing your thinking and behavior. When you know what you want in life you can ask yourself if your behavior is helping you achieve those goals.
  • Changing your self-talk. Start listening to how you talk to yourself. When you use negative or critical self-talk, make it a point to replace them with supportive words.
  • Challenging your automatic negative thoughts. Psychologists call this thought recording. This is a proven tool to eliminate the ANTs and improve rational thinking, according to research. This involves a simple exercise in which you write down your ANT, identify the ANT type, and ask yourself 5 questions. These life-changing questions are:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it absolutely true with 100% certainty?
  3. How do I feel when I believe this thought?
  4. How would I feel if I didn’t have this thought?
  5. Turn the thought around to its exact opposite and ask is this new thought true?
  • Exposure therapy. Make a list of situations that cause fear and anxiety for you. Starting with the ones that seem the least fear-inducing to you, begin gradually facing these situations. With time, these situations will cause less anxiety. After you successfully face one fear, move on to the next one. Research has found that exposure therapy improves symptoms in 80%-90% of people with phobias.

By putting these self-help techniques into everyday practice, you can learn to be your own therapist. This is a very empowering aspect of CBT. Ultimately, CBT can reduce stress and anxiety, boost moods, enhance motivation, and strengthen confidence and self-control, among many other benefits.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. How can I afford good cbt therapy that is very needed?

    Comment by Gina Volk — September 1, 2023 @ 3:34 AM

  2. Is CBT therapy just as effective when done through tele health? It seems especially in rural areas that is the only mental health help we can get.

    Comment by Kim — September 1, 2023 @ 4:26 AM

  3. Great article on CBT…thanks…

    Comment by Patrick Beck — September 1, 2023 @ 8:21 AM

  4. Thanks for this well written , empowering article on CBT. It is a method of self-help that we all need or will need. I will definitely pass this article to my circle of family & friends! Blessings to the AMEN Team!

    Comment by M. Jackson — September 5, 2023 @ 7:40 AM

  5. CBT is awesome I strongly recommend it.

    Comment by Lisa — September 5, 2023 @ 4:49 PM

  6. I was wanting to learn more about CBT.

    Comment by Kimberlie — September 6, 2023 @ 2:46 PM

  7. I'm a high school teacher in Thompson Falls, and one of my students has been showing behavioral issues that seem to be due to his environment at home so I was hoping to get him some counseling soon. I appreciate you informing us that with cognitive behavioral therapy, we can identify and change negative thinking patterns by challenging them head-on. I'll take note of this while I look for a therapeutic group home for troubled boys that I might consider recommending to my student soon.

    Comment by Clare Martin — November 3, 2023 @ 6:38 AM

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