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A Brief History of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In May, we recognize Mental Health Month and are looking deeper into one of the forms of therapy we use in our practice. A common form of therapy today is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a relatively new treatment, with modern techniques that were not available until just a few short decades ago. The early versions of cognitive-behavioral therapy were developed in the 1950s and ‘60s, with improvements made to the treatment protocol continuing until today. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the leading professional group for CBT professionals did not even exist sixty. But thanks to the ongoing research and development of CBT, thousands of people have been able to take back control of their mental health. 

Despite its short history, the underlying principles of CBT can be dated back to the Greek philosopher Epictetus who believed that logic could be used to identify and get rid of false beliefs that lead to destructive emotions. Humans have known for centuries that facing fears can help in overcoming them. Dating back to Buddhism and Hinduism, mindfulness has a long history of use prior to being popularized in the Western world. While we can date the basic concepts of CBT back far into the past, the modern tenets of CBT add to its practical use in mental health practice. Known as the ‘father of CBT’, Aaron T. Beck formed early hypotheses about CBT and began to conduct sessions in his psychoanalytic practice. 

CBT is systematic and structured, helping people to get an adequate opportunity to think and act in an emotionally healthy way, just as an exercise program would for physical health. As an example, a therapist might ask a person with depression to write down the thoughts they have when something bad happens to them. During their appointment, the therapist will evaluate with the person how true those thoughts are in reality. Focused and repeated practice is vital to CBT and its uses have expanded from depression to treating other conditions such as anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, marital problems, and eating disorders. 

CBT is problem-focused and action-oriented. A therapist will assist the client in practicing effective strategies to address identified problems and actively work to reduce symptoms. Based on the belief that thought distortions and maladaptive behaviors affect the development and maintenance of mental health conditions, CBT works to reduce symptoms by teaching new thought-processing skills and coping mechanisms. 

Studies have shown that CBT alone can be just as effective as psychoactive medications when treating less severe forms of depression., anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorders. Additional research shows that in combination with medication, CBT is an extremely effective method for treating major depressive disorder. Since mental health professionals have begun using CBT, over 2,000 research studies have been completed demonstrating its efficacy. CBT appeals to most because it focuses on human thought. By helping people identify their distressing thoughts and evaluate how realistic those thoughts are, they can learn to change their distorted thinking patterns. These changes towards more realistic thinking can help them feel better. The emphasis is on consistently initiating behavioral changes and solving problems in a healthy way. 

If you are interested in learning more about CBT, we are seeing clients virtually at this time! 

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