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Cognitive behavioral therapy at a glance

Last Update: September 27, 2011.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the umbrella term for a particular group of psychotherapies. The term “cognitive” comes from the Latin cognoscere meaning “to recognize” or “to be aware of”. CBT

  • is a problem-oriented treatment.
  • helps in recognizing current problems and finding solutions to them.
  • aims at the client being able to cope with his or her own life again without therapeutic help, as quickly as possible.
  • does not deal primarily with the past. It does not focus primarily on uncovering the deeper origins of problems.
  • is based on a cooperative partnership between the therapist and the client. The therapy is shaped together.
  • requires a lot of self-initiative. Successful therapy assumes that the client will continue to work on the problems between sessions.

In CBT the client deals with

  • whether his or her own thoughts and convictions have a negative effect on well-being.
  • whether certain types of behavior contribute to problems.

The assumption underlying CBT is that our thoughts, our behavior and our well-being mutually influence one another:

Behavior - Feelings - Thoughts

Sometimes, harmful thoughts or types of behavior make us feel bad. This is best explained with an example:

Imagine meeting someone you know on the street. You say hello, but the person does not greet you in return. There are different ways of reacting to this. 

thoughts“He has ignored me – he doesn’t like me anymore.”“He hasn’t noticed me – maybe he doesn’t feel well. I should give him a ring and find out how he is doing.”
feelingsSomeone who thinks in this way feels downcast, sad and rejected.With these thoughts, no negative feelings come up.
behaviorThe consequence of this thought is to avoid this person in the future, although the assumption could be completely false.This thought leads to reconnecting with the person to find out if everything is all right.
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