Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: What It Is & How It Works

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If you’re like me, you might give a side eye to trends on social media. Especially when it comes to health and wellness.

“Is this vitamin really going to help me sleep better?”
“Will this supplement actually boost my energy?”
“Can this drink boost my immunity?”
And the list goes on. And on. And on.

But when it comes to mental health, there’s a reason you’ve been hearing so much about cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT has repeatedly been tested and tried. Literally. It’s the most widely studied and supported psychotherapy method.

CBT has created lasting change in clients who took the time to learn and practice the skills,” says Giselle Alexander, LCSW, a licensed therapist and AbleTo program advisor. “Understanding how the way we think affects our mood and behavior is a game changer.”

Sounds too good to be true? I get it. But CBT is the real deal. It’s even considered by experts to be the “gold standard” in mental health for a variety of conditions.

So, let’s find out why. We’ll take a deep dive into what CBT is and how it works. Plus, we’ll take a look at how we apply CBT principles in our programs.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps you figure out the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It can also help you change unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns that may be driving them.

CBT uses a structured, time-bound approach. It’s an active style of treatment. You practice core skills that can be applied to your daily life. Once you’ve mastered those skills, you can use them to face new challenges. Over time, CBT can help you improve your mood. It can also help you better manage your mental health.

What are the core concepts of CBT?

One of the core concepts of CBT is that past experiences, beliefs, and how you think can impact how you interpret or react to situations. For example: Say you’re anxious about a presentation. That anxiety can influence how you respond to feedback from co-workers.

Other core concepts include:

  • Psychological problems may come from unhelpful thought patterns. We aren’t usually aware of our thoughts as separate from our experiences. This is by design. Our brains are wired to take in the world around us. CBT teaches you how to identify and reframe these thoughts.
  • Psychological problems may come from learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. CBT helps you recognize these patterns. Using different skills, you’ll replace them with behaviors that support a healthier lifestyle.
  • People dealing with psychological problems can learn better coping skills. These skills can help relieve symptoms. And this relief can help people become more effective in their lives. Using coping strategies like self care, mindfulness, and problem-solving is common in CBT.

What CBT-based programs does AbleTo have?

AbleTo offers 4 virtual CBT-based programs. Each one is designed by clinicians. Here’s an overview:

  • Self care: Exercises, tools, and more to help you self-manage your mental wellness
  • Coaching: A trained coach helps you take action towards your mental health goals.
  • Therapy: A licensed therapist helps you explore skills to build resilience
  • Holistic care: A coach and therapist support both your mental and physical wellness

What CBT techniques do AbleTo programs use?

There are dozens of CBT methods available. But the ones that’ll work best for you will depend on your needs. Here are a few tools we use in our programs.

  • Self-monitoring: A form of reflection where you notice thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It can help you identify triggers that impact your mental health.
  • Relaxation: Mindfulness skills that can help you increase awareness and deal with difficult feelings.
  • Goal-setting: The SMART method helps you set clear milestones and stay on track. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • Behavioral activation: The process of gradually taking part in more healthy and rewarding activities. This can help you “turn on” positive emotions.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can help you work through emotions and clarify values.

What can AbleTo programs help with?

Each program is designed to meet you where you are. We don’t address complex issues, like ADHD. But people dealing with these conditions may face some of the challenges below. In these cases, AbleTo can provide additional support.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Grief
  • Lack of focus
  • Chronic pain
  • Loneliness
  • Worry
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship problems
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Communication issues

When would a doctor recommend CBT?

Doctors may recommend a CBT-based program, like those offered by AbleTo, if:

  • Your mental health symptoms are getting in the way of your life.
  • You’re experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression or a lack of focus.
  • You’re receiving medication for a behavioral or physical condition.

What are some other benefits of CBT?

CBT-based programs, like those provided by AbleTo, have additional benefits, including:

  • Short duration: CBT can help provide a meaningful improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms for many within 68 weeks of treatment. This is shorter than other types of therapy. AbleTo therapy and coaching programs are about 8 weeks long.
  • Long-term results: Research shows CBT can have a long-lasting impact. Even after sessions are over.
  • High adaptability: CBT skills can be applied to many different areas of life. Once you learn them, you can use them to face whatever life throws your way.
  • Cost-effective: AbleTo is a benefit offered to people through their employer or health plan. Because of this, most people pay $0. There may be copays, depending on your coverage.

Harness the power of CBT

Think you could benefit from a CBT-based program? We’ve got you covered.

By Hawi Bengessa
Hawi Bekele Bengessa is Senior Content Designer at AbleTo. Starting out as a self-taught freelancer, Hawi has been a marketing copywriter for almost 10 years. She’s passionate about mental health and advocating on behalf of the unhoused.

Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.

Photo by SACheckley/iStock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.

The information featured on this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other websites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.