How Are Cognitive Behavioral Therapies Used to Treat Mental Health Issues?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mental Health

One in five U.S. adults will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime. The most common mental health conditions are depression and anxiety disorders. Although these disorders are common and can severely impact a person’s quality of life, they are treatable. Usually, a combination of talk therapy and medication are the most common ways that mental health disorders are treated.

Talk therapy has been around since the late 1800s and is a form of psychotherapy where patients speak to a licensed, qualified therapist for structured sessions. In the mid-1960s, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, was invented.

CBT differs from older forms of talk therapy. Psychotherapies tend to focus on past experiences and the deeper origins of a patient’s trauma. In contrast, CBT offers a  short-term, focused approach on remedies for a variety of mental health disorder symptoms and how to help patients in the present and the future.

CBT sessions have a set start date and end date, with a particular goal or set of goals for the therapy. Psychotherapies are more fluid and usually don’t have one specific purpose, and end date for the sessions.

CBT is used to alleviate the symptoms of many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. During CBT sessions, a trained therapist will help the patient uncover destructive thoughts and behavior patterns, and guide them toward making positive, sustaining changes in their belief systems and actions.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, invented CBT in the early 1960s. Dr. Beck was an experienced therapist with a strong background in psychoanalysis and had designed and experimented with different, alternative psychoanalytic concepts, mainly for the treatment of depression. Throughout the experiments, Dr. Beck assumed their findings would prove the fundamental concepts of psychoanalytic thoughts, but the opposite occurred. Instead, Dr. Beck’s investigations uncovered “automatic thoughts,” and how they played a distinct role in depression.

Because of these findings, Dr. Beck started to invent new ways of looking at and conceptualizing depression from a clinical standpoint. As the research continued, what he found was that depressed patients would have streams of negative, self-loathing thoughts that would happen randomly. Upon further study of what he deemed, “automatic thoughts,” Dr. Beck found these negative beliefs fell into three distinct categories – thoughts about the world, the future, or the patient.

Based on these findings, Dr. Beck started to develop the protocols that are now associated with modern-day CBT practices. The patients were not fully aware of their thoughts and how they were impacting their behaviors and worsening their depression symptoms. The ideas would be random, and automatic. What Dr. Beck started to do first was help the patients identify the thoughts, and then evaluate them in a realistic light. The patients began to improve emotionally, and they also started to function better in their day-to-day lives.

Once the patients started to identify and change their underlying beliefs governing their thoughts about the world and themselves, they were able to make better choices and create long-lasting change in their lives and relationships. This new talk therapy approach to treating depression was named cognitive therapy and then changed to cognitive behavioral therapy.

CBT Today

Today, CBT is one of the most popular forms of talk therapy, and it is useful for treating a range of mental health disorders, emotional issues, and relationship problems. Thousands of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of CBT for mental health conditions.

When a patient is prescribed CBT, they will usually attend sessions with a licensed therapist once a week or once every two weeks. The sessions last between 30 minutes and 60 minutes. Patients most often attend anywhere between five and 20 CBT sessions, but the duration of treatment will depend on the severity of the patient’s mental health condition and their symptoms.

Throughout therapy, the therapist will guide the patient on breaking down the problems they are facing into separate categories – their thoughts, their physical feelings, and their behaviors. The therapist will help the patient identify and evaluate their beliefs and how they influence their feelings and actions, and if they are helpful, harmful, or unrealistic. The patient will also need to assess the impact these thoughts and actions are having on their life and ability to function. Some of the topics and exercises covered in CBT sessions include the following:


  • Identify distorted thoughts and learn how to reevaluate them in a realistic light.
  • Learn how to understand the behavior and choices that other people make.
  • Develop problem-solving skills for stressful situations.
  • Improve confidence and self-esteem.
  • Learn to face fears head-on instead of avoiding them.
  • Develop strategies for calming their mind and alleviating distressing physical feelings.

Therapists will also give the patient goals to work on in between sessions that incorporate the new techniques and problem-solving skills they’ve learned in their previous CBT sessions. The overall goal of the CBT sessions is to teach the patient how to apply their newly acquired skills to improve their lives and make better choices. CBT sessions can help patients manage their negative thoughts and keep them from harming their ability to function to maintain personal relationships. The skills taught in therapy will help the patient make life-long, lasting changes.

How is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy incorporated with pharmacotherapy?

In recent years, CBT therapy has become increasingly popular with patients and therapists alike. CBT is short-term and highly focused on teaching patients the skills they need to make positive changes in their lives. As such, it is a cost-effective therapy measure, and also less expensive to attend than other forms of talk or psychotherapy. CBT is also supported and backed by thousands of empirical studies and can help a variety of patients with maladaptive behaviors and emotional distress.

Also, studies have found that patients with mild, moderate, and severe depression and other mental health symptoms can benefit from CBT in combination with conventional medications for mental health symptoms. Incorporating other lifestyle changes can also alleviate some of the distress that mental health disorder patients feel.

Research has also uncovered high comorbidity rates between mental health and substance use disorders. Patients who do not receive adequate care for mental health often turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Also, many of the patients who enter either mental health treatment facilities or drug rehab facilities are often diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder. Studies on integrated treatment methods have shown that treating all mental health disorders at once, and with a combination of therapies and medications is the most effective for helping patients manage their symptoms.

How can CBT enhance the effectiveness of CBD oil?

Cannabidiol oil has become increasingly popular in recent years for the treatment of a variety of symptoms. Preclinical studies on patients with depression and anxiety have found that CBD oil can alleviate the symptoms present in these disorders. New research has also found that treating patients with anxiety disorders acutely with CBD oil is incredibly useful for reducing the severity of their symptoms. Also, CBD is not an addictive substance, so it is safe for people with addiction issues to take.

While CBT is focused on identifying negative, unrealistic thoughts and helping patients reevaluate them in a realistic light, CBD oil can give immediate relief of painful, distressing physical symptoms. Current research suggests that CBT offers patients the tools to stop the negative thoughts before they can cause physical distress and influence the patient’s actions. Patients who take CBD oil while undergoing CBT sessions can acutely alleviate their distress while making lasting, positive changes.

Do patients need a prescription for CBD, or can it be purchased over-the-counter?

CBD is not a prescription drug. It is considered a supplement. While the FDA has recently approved several cannabis-based drugs, the FDA does not currently monitor CBD oil and derivative products. There are several caveats that people should consider before purchasing CBD oil or other CBD products.

CBD is not the same as THC, the cannabinoid in marijuana that gets a person high. However, people can find CBD oil that includes THC. For patients with anxiety or depression, it is best to avoid CBD products that contain THC. Studies have shown that THC can increase anxiety and depression symptoms in susceptible patients.

Also, 47 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized CBD for sale and consumption. It’s essential for consumers to check and make sure that it is legal to buy CBD in their state. Also, not all CBD products are the same. Since the sale and manufacture of CBD is not subject to uniform requirements and guidelines, the quality between products can vary drastically. CBD sourced and created in states where medical marijuana and cannabis products have been legal for a long time is usually reputable and of high quality.

For people with mental health disorders and comorbid conditions, treatment methods need to be customized to the individual patient and their unique needs. Combining CBT with medications and also health supplements can alleviate symptoms and emotional distress.