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Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an action-oriented form of psychosocial therapy that assumes that maladaptive,
Theoretically, cognitive-behavioral therapy can be employed in any situation in which there is a pattern of unwanted behavior accompanied by distress and impairment. It is a recommended treatment option for a number of mental disorders, including affective (mood) disorders, personality disorders, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety or panic disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also frequently used as a tool to deal with chronic pain for patients with illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, back problems, and cancer. Patients with sleep disorders may also find cognitive-behavioral therapy a useful treatment for insomnia.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may not be suitable for some patients. Those who don't have a specific behavioral issue they wish to address and whose goals for therapy are to gain insight into the past may be better served by psychodynamic therapy. Patients must also be willing to take a very active role in the treatment process.
Cognitive-behavioral intervention may be inappropriate for some severely psychotic patients and for cognitively impaired patients (for example, patients with organic brain disease or a traumatic brain injury), depending on their level of functioning.
Pioneered by psychologists Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis in the 1960s, cognitive therapy assumes that maladaptive behaviors and disturbed mood or emotions are the result of inappropriate or irrational thinking patterns, called automatic thoughts. Instead of reacting to the reality of a situation, an individual reacts to his or her own distorted viewpoint of the situation. For example, a person may conclude that he is "worthless" simply because he failed an exam or didn't get a date. Cognitive therapists attempt to make their patients aware of these distorted thinking patterns, or cognitive distortions, and change them (a process termed cognitive restructuring).
Behavioral therapy, or behavior modification, trains individuals to replace undesirable behaviors with healthier behavioral patterns. Unlike psychodynamic therapies, it does not focus on uncovering or understanding the unconscious motivations that may be behind the maladaptive behavior. In other words, strictly behavioral therapists don't try to find out why their patients behave the way they do, they just teach them to change the behavior.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy integrates the cognitive restructuring approach of cognitive therapy with the behavioral modification techniques of behavioral therapy. The therapist works with the patient to identify both the thoughts and the behaviors that are causing distress, and to change those thoughts in order to readjust the behavior. In some cases, the patient may have certain fundamental core beliefs, called schemas, which are flawed and require modification. For example, a patient suffering from depression may be avoiding social contact with others, and suffering considerable emotional distress because of his isolation. When questioned why, the patient reveals to his therapist that he is afraid of rejection, of what others may do or say to him. Upon further exploration with his therapist, they discover that his real fear is not rejection, but the belief that he is hopelessly uninteresting and unlovable. His therapist then tests the reality of that assertion by having the patient name friends and family who love him and enjoy his company. By showing the patient that others value him, the therapist both exposes the irrationality of the patient's belief and provides him with a new model of thought to change his old behavior pattern. In this case, the person learns to think, "I am an interesting and lovable person; therefore I should not have difficulty making new friends in social situations." If enough "irrational cognitions" are changed, this patient may experience considerable relief from his depression.
A number of different techniques may be employed in cognitive-behavioral therapy to help patients uncover and examine their thoughts and change their behaviors. They include:
Initial treatment sessions are typically spent explaining the basic tenets of cognitive-behavioral therapy to the patient and establishing a positive working relationship between therapist and patient. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a collaborative, action-oriented therapy effort. As such, it empowers the patient by giving him an active role in the therapy process and discourages any overdependence on the therapist that may occur in other therapeutic relationships. Therapy is typically administered in an out-patient setting in either an individual or group session. Therapists include psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D. or M.A. degree), clinical social workers (M.S.W., D.S.W., or L.S.W. degree), counselors (M.A. or M.S. degree), or psychiatrists (M.D. with specialization in psychiatry) and should be trained in cognitive-behavioral techniques, although some brief cognitive-behavioral interventions may be suggested by a primary physician/caregiver. Treatment is relatively short in comparison to some other forms of psychotherapy, usually lasting no longer than 16 weeks. Many insurance plans provide reimbursement for cognitive-behavioral therapy services. Because coverage is dependent on the disorder or illness the therapy is treating, patients should check with their individual plans.
Author Info: Paula Anne Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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