Whether you’ve been to therapy or not, you’ve probably heard about cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s a popular type of therapy that many, many therapists use to help their clients treat everything from severe anxiety to debilitating depression.
But even though CBT is widespread, it’s still highly misunderstood—even by the professionals who practice it. Numerous myths still abound. Below, two psychologists who specialize in CBT share the facts behind the most common misconceptions.
Myth: CBT is a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach where a clinician applies a specific technique to a specific problem.
Even though CBT features structured protocols for different disorders, it is not an inflexible treatment that ignores clients’ individuality. In fact, CBT requires that clinicians have a detailed and deep understanding of every client and their individual needs. Because, of course, every person is different. Every person has a different history, different circumstances, different qualities and traits, and different factors that maintain their symptoms. CBT allows for nuance.
According to psychologist Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, “CBT is a collaborative, time-limited, ‘real-world’ approach that requires an understanding of the empirical literature and significant creativity.”
Each week Chapman, an expert in anxiety-related disorders, finds himself on bridges and interstates and inside caves. He finds himself watching vomit videos, and watching clients interact with strangers (for social anxiety). He finds himself walking in malls (for agoraphobia), and using straightjackets (for claustrophobia). He finds himself using virtual reality exposure therapy (for phobias) and drinking strong coffee in an elevator (for panic)—along with all sorts of other scenarios and situations that don’t include being inside an office.
As he added, “CBT is refreshing to implement and never leads to boredom in my practice.”
Myth: CBT is simply shifting negative thoughts to positive ones.