In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Who Benefits from Trying CBT?
People who describe having particular problems are often the most suitable for CBT, because it works through having a specific focus and goals. It may be less suitable for someone who feels vaguely unhappy or unfulfilled, but who doesn’t have troubling symptoms or a particular aspect of their life they want to work on.
It’s likely to be more helpful for anyone who can relate to CBT’s ideas, its problem-solving approach and the need for practical self-assignments. People tend to prefer CBT if they want a more practical treatment, where gaining insight isn’t the main aim.
CBT can be an effective therapy for the following problems:
- anger management
- anxiety and panic attacks
- child and adolescent problems
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- chronic pain
- drug or alcohol problems
- eating problems
- general health problems
- habits, such as facial tics
- mood swings
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- sexual and relationship problems
- sleep problems
There is a new and rapidly growing interest in using CBT (together with medication) with people who suffer from hallucinations and delusions, and those with long-term problems in relating to others.
It’s less easy to solve problems that are more severely disabling and more long-standing through short-term therapy. But people can often learn principles that improve their quality of life and increase their chances of making further progress. There is also a wide variety of self-help literature. It provides information about treatments for particular problems and ideas about what people can do on their own or with friends and family (see further down).
Why do I Need to Do Homework?
People who are willing to do assignments at home seem to get the most benefit from CBT. For example, many people with depression say they don’t want to take on social or work activities until they are feeling better. CBT may introduce them to an alternative viewpoint – that trying some activity of this kind, however small-scale to begin with, will help them feel better.
If that individual is open to testing this out, they could agree to do a homework assignment (say to meet a friend at the pub for a drink). They may make faster progress, as a result, than someone who feels unable to take this risk and who prefers to talk about their problems.
How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT can substantially reduce the symptoms of many emotional disorders – clinical trials have shown this. In the short term, it’s just as good as drug therapies at treating depression and anxiety disorders. And the benefits may last longer. All too often, when drug treatments finish, people relapse, and so practitioners may advise patients to continue using medication for longer.
When individuals are followed up for up to two years after therapy has ended, many studies have shown a marked advantage for CBT. For example, having just 12 sessions of CBT can be as helpful in tackling depression as taking medication throughout the two-year follow-up period. This research suggests that CBT helps bring about a real change that goes beyond just feeling better while the patient stays in therapy. This has fuelled interest in CBT.
Comparisons with other types of short-term psychological therapy aren’t quite so clear-cut. Therapies such as inter-personal therapy and social skills training are also effective. The drive is now to make all these interventions as effective as possible, and also, perhaps, to establish who responds best to which type of therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is not a miracle cure. The therapist needs to have considerable expertise – and the client must be prepared to be persistent, open and brave. Not everybody will benefit, at least not to full recovery, in a short space of time. It’s unrealistic to expect too much.
At the moment, experts know quite a lot about people who have relatively clear-cut problems. They know much less about how the average person may do – somebody, perhaps, who has a number of problems that are less clearly defined. Sometimes, therapy may have to go on longer to do justice to the number of problems and to the length of time they’ve been around. One fact is also clear, though. CBT is rapidly developing. All the time, new ideas are being researched to deal with the more difficult aspects of people’s problems.
Martin, B. (2013). In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/in-depth-cognitive-behavioral-therapy/000907