What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

And why is it so effective for depression and anxiety?
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Hamilton
A smiling therapist stands over her desk, ready for a CBT video session
Source: Shutterstock

You might have heard that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is super effective for anxiety and depression, but what is cognitive behavioral therapy, really? Well, CBT is a type of therapy that helps patients reframe the way they think by paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions and finding patterns of negative thinking to address with the help of their therapist. The next step, which is just as important, is helping patients change behaviors that perpetuate those negative thoughts and emotions, putting what they’ve learned into action.

What makes CBT different from other kinds of therapy is the specificity: in many cases, CBT takes place over a set number of sessions and includes between-session activities like symptom monitoring, thought recording, and other exercises that help guide clients through the difficult work of introspection.

Another distinction is that, while many types of therapy focus on working through the patient’s past experiences and investigating the link between, say, their childhood and their current issues, CBT is heavily focused on the present and future. Therapists work with clients to identify and address their current unhelpful or detrimental thought patterns, in order to help them make adjustments that will improve their future outcomes.

Get the most effective therapy for anxiety and depression

A woman is curled up on a sofa, holding a cup of coffee and smiling, a CBT journal open on her lap
Source: Shutterstock

So that’s what cognitive behavioral therapy is, but how does it work?

In addition to helping you identify negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, cognitive behavioral therapy specialists will also work with you to set goals for your treatment, help you better understand your harmful patterns, and work with you to practice techniques for coping with and eventually changing those patterns. 

It takes practice, but cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely effective — many studies over the years have shown a marked improvement in emotional and behavioral issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders after completing a course of CBT. And it generally starts working much faster than other methods of therapy, with patients seeing results in as little as a few weeks.

And CBT doesn’t just work for people with mental illnesses or deep-seated issues; it can also improve the daily lives of people who’d be otherwise unlikely to seek therapy. 

No matter your situation, CBT can increase your control over negative emotions and encourage positive behavior changes. For example, it can help curb feelings of anxiety or stress that inevitably crop up during the day, or help change habits that may be holding you back from achieving your goals. The core focus and practical, concrete exercises of CBT are applicable to anyone, from any walk of life. 

Why is CBT so effective?

Okay, so cognitive behavioral therapy is super effective — but why is that?

Well, there are a few elements of CBT that experts suspect make it so successful in treating certain psychological issues:

  1. Structure. Unlike other forms of therapy, CBT relies heavily on structured exercises, which not only provide a framework for patients to track and challenge their negative emotions but also increase the chance that those same patients will keep up with the work outside of their sessions.
  2. Repetition. A crucial element of CBT is practice, which is closely aligned with repetition. By having clients perform the same exercises over and over, in various situations and with different emotional issues, therapists are helping them learn new ways of responding to thoughts and emotions. Plus, the repetition of a new skill actually creates new pathways in your brain, increasing connections between the control and emotion regions — the more you practice, the stronger your ability to regulate negative emotions becomes.
  3. Rigorous scientific testing. Because CBT is a fairly recent form of therapy (it’s only become mainstream in the past couple of decades), it was born into a scientific environment of frequent and rigorous study. This means that CBT as a practice has been refined and proven and refined again throughout its history, which has improved its effectiveness.

Ultimately, what sets cognitive behavioral therapy apart from other kinds of counseling are the structure and focus, and the collaborative nature of the process. CBT techniques are always highly personalized, based on the individual patient’s unique patterns and tailored to their specific needs. 

In addition to being a source of understanding and support, therapists are partners and guides — the therapy is clearly structured and goal-oriented, with exercises to help patients make (and track) progress. And the exercises are also tightly focused and well structured, making them easier to follow and incorporate into the client’s daily life.

All of this not only makes CBT more effective, but also easier to implement and stick with, which in turn makes it even more effective! It’s a virtuous cycle.

If you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious, or you’d just like some help gaining more control over your emotions or making some changes in unhealthy patterns or habits, you might consider CBT. 

To work with patients effectively using CBT, providers need extensive training, and it can be difficult to find CBT experts at an affordable price. At Youper, we want to change that. Our platform is uniquely designed to provide the highest quality CBT at an affordable cost. We do this by combining caring, CBT-trained providers who really listen to you with 24/7 chat to support you anytime you need it. 

We believe you can feel better, and we want to help you get there.

Why not give CBT a try today, with Youper?

Online therapy
with or without

Expert care for anxiety
and depression
Youper Woman Therapist
Youper Woman Therapist

Over 60,000 5-star reviews

Star icon
Star icon
Star icon
Star icon
Star icon
If you are in a life-threatening situation - don’t use this site.
Call +1 (800) 273-8255 or use these resources to get immediate help.
MHA Mental Health America logo - associate member
© 2022 Youper Inc. All rights reserved