Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are types of treatment that are based firmly on research findings. These approaches aid people in achieving specific changes or goals.
Changes or goals might involve:
A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like lessening back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.
Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past.
They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life, not on personality traits.
Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists treat individuals, parents, children, couples, and families.
Replacing ways of living that do not work well with ways of living that work, and giving people more control over their lives, are common goals of behavior and cognitive behavior therapy.
HOW TO GET HELP:
If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet.
You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner.
It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist.
It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees.
They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association.
Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state.
You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations.
You may, of course, visit our website (www.abct.org) and click on "Find a CBT Therapist"
The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition.
These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.
Who Receives Psychotherapy?
Most people, at one time or another, need some help. For some, talking with a
therapist helps them understand ways to improve their life. Sometimes people
seek therapy at the advice of a physician or a health agency. Sometimes it's
overwhelming life stress or a particular crisis that causes a person to decide to
go to therapy. And many times people enter therapy to gain insight and acceptance
about themselves and to achieve personal growth. Psychotherapy is
for anyone who is unhappy with the way he or she acts or feels, and wants to
What Is Psychotherapy?
In general terms, psychotherapy is a relationship in which one person enlists
the professional assistance of another for the purpose of bringing about
changes in his or her own feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and/or behavior. The
task of the psychotherapist, therefore, is to help individuals make the changes
they wish to make. Sometimes the person entering therapy knows changes are
needed but doesn't know what changes to make or how to go about making
them. A psychotherapist helps the person figure this out.
How the psychotherapist goes about helping a client will depend upon the
therapist's training and theoretical orientation. This orientation will affect the
therapist's style and focus, as well as the methods and techniques used in psychotherapy.
Most therapeutic orientations fall under three general categories:
Behavior Therapy, Psychoanalytic/ Psychodynamic Therapy, and Humanistic
Behaviorally oriented therapists practice a particular kind of therapy known as
behavior therapy. Behavior therapy involves the application of findings from
behavioral science research to help individuals change in the way they would
like to change. Behavior therapy places a strong emphasis on the principles of
learning and on how faulty learning may cause problems in a person's life.
There is also an emphasis in behavior therapy on checking up on how effective
the therapy is by monitoring and evaluating the client's progress. Most behaviorally
oriented therapists believe that the current environment is most important
in affecting the person's present behavior. The procedures used by
behavior therapists are generally intended to improve the individual's self-control
by expanding the person's skills and abilities. Almost all behavior therapists
assign homework and the practice of new behaviors as part of their
Another type of behavior therapy is cognitive behavior therapy or cognitive
therapy. Cognitive therapists believe that many problems stem from irrational
and dysfunctional thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, and that these thoughts may affect
a person's behavior and emotions. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy
is to modify a client's way of thinking so that a change in behavior and
emotions can occur.
In order to do this, cognitive therapists often assign such monitoring
tasks as keeping track of thought patterns and performing experiments in
everyday life to see if the ideas or beliefs are actually correct.
Psychoanalytically or psychodynamically oriented therapists believe that
many psychological problems stem from unconscious impulses and conflicts
that develop and are repressed in childhood. To treat psychological
problems, psychoanalytic therapists attempt to help the client bring these
repressed (held down) feelings into conscious awareness and to work
through them and gain insight into them. Some techniques used by psychoanalytically
oriented therapists include dream interpretation and free
association, in which the unconscious is explored by having the client relax
and say whatever comes to mind.
Humanistically oriented therapists emphasize people's built-in abilities to
achieve self-fulfillment. Humanistic therapists try to help people grow in
their self-awareness and self-acceptance. Humanistic therapists spend less
time on past events and focus more on the present. They help clients focus
on feelings and conscious, rather than unconscious, material. Humanistic
therapists use techniques that encourage people to take responsibility for
their actions and feelings, rather than looking for unconscious motivations
You will probably want to ask potential therapists if they adhere to a
particular orientation and what that might mean for your therapy experience.
Most psychotherapists are not rigid in their orientations but are flexible
in that they use ideas, techniques, and methods from various
Psychotherapy is also given in different ways. Besides individual and
group therapy, couples/relationship and family therapy are generally available.
There are also psychotherapy groups whose members may have a single
interest or problem. These alternative approaches to therapy also can
vary widely depending upon the therapist's orientation.
What Happens in Psychotherapy?
The therapeutic process varies depending on the orientation of the therapist.
It also differs for each individual client depending on the client's circumstances.
However, there are some common aspects of therapy that you
are likely to experience when you enter a therapeutic relationship.
To begin with, your first session with a therapist should be a consultation
session. This consultation does not commit you to working with the therapist.
The goals in the consultation are to find out whether psychotherapy
would be useful to you and whether this particular therapist is likely to be
helpful. During this session, you may want to discuss with the therapist
any values that are particularly important to you. If your therapist's views
are very different from yours, you may want to find a more compatible
This first session is a time for you to determine whether you will feel
comfortable, confident, and motivated in working with this particular therapist.
You should also feel that you can trust and respect your therapist and
that your therapist is understanding of your situation. This is also the time
for the therapist to decide whether he or she is a good match for you. At
times, a therapist may refer you to another therapist who may be able to
work better with you.
After you've decided to work with a particular therapist, the next few
sessions are usually devoted to talking about the circumstances that have
brought you to therapy. Generally, during this time (assessment) your therapist
will be asking quite specific questions about the concerns or problems
causing your distress and about when and where they occur.
Assessment also can be done more formally, through the use of questionnaires
or tests. A therapist can use a variety of techniques in assessment.
Initial assessments are used to get therapy started; however, a good
therapist will continue to assess a client's problems throughout therapy and
change the direction of therapy, if needed.
After the initial assessment stage, the rest of psychotherapy is devoted to
helping you gain insight and solve current problems and/or help you
change the emotions, thoughts, and/or behaviors that you want to change.
The goals you bring to therapy are the gist of the therapeutic process. How
these goals are accomplished depends a great deal on both the orientation
of the therapist and the techniques the therapist may use with you.
Some therapists may require more activity during therapy than just talking
with you about particular issues. These activities may include such
things as role playing or homework assignments in which you practice
some of the techniques introduced in therapy (like relaxation skills or communication
methods). Therapists also differ on how strongly they determine
how therapy proceeds. Some therapists may take a more directive
role, while others let the client direct the course of therapy.
The amount of therapy you receive will also vary depending on the orientation
of the therapist and/or the specific treatment plan used. Some
therapies are relatively short, while others require a longer time commitment.
Each session of therapy usually lasts about an hour, and you generally
meet with your therapist once a week. However, such time schedules
are rarely rigid and may be changed to fit the needs of you and/or your
therapist. It is a good idea to ask your therapist about the general techniques
he or she may use with you in therapy, as well as about the length
and frequency of therapy you might expect.
Some therapists use other forms of treatment in addition to psychotherapy.
These treatments may include such things as pharmacotherapy (medication)
or other biomedical therapies, outside support groups, and/or
physical health treatments.
Finally, after a period of time you and your therapist may agree that
therapy has been successful in helping you achieve your goals; and, thus,
therapy is no longer needed. Even after therapy has ended, some therapists
may ask you to come back several months later for follow-up visits to check
on how you are doing.
If you encounter new problems or feel that past problems still haven't
been resolved, you may choose to return to therapy, either with the same
therapist or with a new therapist. One important thing to remember is that
therapy is not a "cure-all" for everyone, and you should always consider
other alternatives when a particular therapy isn't working for you.
What Should Not Happen in Psychotherapy?
The relationship between client and therapist is based on mutual trust and
respect. If either party violates this trust and respect, there may be adequate
reasons to end therapy. Licensed therapists are expected to adhere to a code
of ethics when seeing clients. Most professionals would agree that violations
of a client's confidentiality, infringement of a client's legal or civil rights,
sexual harassment and/or sexual relations, and physical or verbal abuse
should not be tolerated in a therapeutic relationship.
If you feel that your therapist is acting in an unethical manner with you
or exploiting you in some other manner, you should speak with your therapist
about your concerns. If your therapist avoids your concerns or does not
address them to your satisfaction, you should consider changing to another
therapist. In addition, you can report the therapists' behavior to your local
psychological or psychiatric association.
Psychotherapy can help you in many ways. Like most human endeavors, it
needs time and motivation for the most successful outcomes. Finding the
right therapy and the right therapeutic orientation for you is the best start.
For more information or to find a therapist:
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