Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques: What Are They and How Do They Work?

In the United States, as many as 1 in 5 people experience symptoms of mental illness every year. Mental illness or mental health concerns refers to a wide range of conditions associated with emotional distress and/or problems functioning at work, school, social gatherings or with family or friends. Though some treatment methods work best for specific conditions, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy benefits have been thoroughly researched and found to be an effective treatment for many disorders including anxiety and depression, trauma, disordered eating, phobias, addictions, and many more. Here we’ll discuss what cognitive behavioral therapy is and how this type of treatment might possibly be the solution you’ve been looking for.

What is CBT?

Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used therapy across the globe. CBT is a type of talk therapy that addresses our thoughts (cognitive) and our behaviors (behavioral). It is based on the idea that what you think, how you feel, and how you react are all connected. In other words, your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings affect your behavior. According to this model, two different people in exactly the same situation may feel very differently depending on what they are thinking.

CBT’s approach is to reduce psychological distress and to bring about significant and long-lasting improvement in quality of life. At its core, CBT is fundamentally about the meanings people attach to thoughts. Every day, as you go about your day, you interpret what’s happening around you. At times, the meaning you give a thought can be distressing and harmful, leading you to act in a negative and often unhelpful way. CBT in psychology teaches you to notice, challenge, and change your negative thinking patterns so that you can live the kind of life that you want.

How does CBT work?

The role of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist is to help you examine and understand the meaning behind the negative thoughts that are affecting your behavior, and to choose a more adaptive response to those thoughts. Depending on your particular concerns and goals, your therapist may approach your CBT treatment by:

  1. Identifying specific challenges in your life.
  2. Pointing out your negative or unproductive thought patterns and how they are affecting your everyday life.
  3. Indicating ways to reshape your thinking that will change the way you feel.
  4. Teaching you new behaviors you can immediately put into practice.


One of the techniques in CBT involves examining the consequences of your behavior. For example, if you struggle with social anxiety, you might avoid a social gathering that you thought would make you feel anxious. Because you felt relief when you avoided that one situation, you might find yourself avoiding other social situations which might lead you to begin to isolate. Although in the beginning, avoidance provided you with the feeling of relief, over time, it might lead to a very limited and depressing existence. In this case, the consequence of repeated avoidance is social isolation and depression. CBT will help you examine the consequences of your behaviors and evaluate the pros and cons of your choices.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. I can’t control this happening to me, but I can control how I respond to it.”

~ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

What are the different types of CBT?

There are many different types of CBT treatments, and the type of treatment you receive will depend on your particular issue. These types include:

  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) — this combines CBT with meditation.

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — this uses an evidence-based strategy like problem-solving and finding acceptance.

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) — this mindfulness-based therapy teaches you to conquer your negative thoughts and maintain your goals.

  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) — this is an active-oriented approach that allows you to identify your irrational beliefs.

Because no two people are alike, your therapist will determine which type of CBT is right for you. Depending on your particular concerns and goals, your therapist may approach your CBT treatment by:

  • Identifying specific challenges in your life.

  • Pointing out your negative or unproductive thought patterns and how they are affecting your everyday life.

  • Indicating ways to reshape your thinking that will change the way you feel.

  • Teaching you new behaviors you can immediately put into practice.

What are some common CBT techniques?

There are a number of CBT techniques your therapist will employ during your treatment. The following are 10 common techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy:

1. ABC Model — you will examine the Activating event (the event that causes distress), Belief (your negative thought), Consequences (negative feelings and behavior that result from your negative thoughts).

2. Cognitive Restructuring or Reframing — you will examine your negative thought patterns. Once you become aware of these, your therapist will teach you how to reframe your thoughts so they are more constructive and adaptive.

3. Guided Discovery — your therapist will get to know your perspective and point out other ways in which to look at your beliefs and manner of thinking.

4. Exposure Therapy — your therapist may slowly expose you to things that trigger your fear or anxiety in order to help you stop avoiding and learn ways of coping.

5. Journaling — writing is an effective way to list your negative thoughts and keep track of new behaviors. This also allows you to see your progress.

6. Activity Scheduling — this can help you establish new habits and allow you to follow through on your new positive behaviors.

7. Behavioral Experiments — these are helpful in treating anxiety disorders that involve catastrophizing or assuming the worst. You and your therapist can design experiments to test the validity of your beliefs. Often you will discover that what you worried might happen never actually happens. What a relief!

8. Worst/Best/Most Likely Case Scenario — you will examine your thoughts and explore all three scenarios to help you generate more realistic thoughts.

9. Role-Playing — many CBT strategies can be brought to life with role playing activities. Often this will bring about meaningful change in thoughts and feelings.

10. Cognitive Distortions — you will discover some common errors you might make when you are anxious or depressed such as all-or-nothing thinking, or labeling. Once you catch these thinking errors, you can change your thinking so that it is more realistic.

What are the benefits of CBT?

As a method of treatment, CBT has many benefits which include:

  • CBT treatment is short-term — unlike some traditional psychotherapies that could last years, most CBT treatments range from five to 20 sessions.

  • CBT gives you hope — you learn how to challenge your negative thoughts, opening your mind to new possibilities.

  • CBT builds your self-esteem — many mental health conditions are associated with low self-esteem. By disrupting your negative thought patterns, your entire belief system changes allowing you to feel better about yourself.

  • CBT develops rational thought processes — you will gain control over your negative thoughts, think rationally, and evaluate your responses.

  • CBT teaches you skills for life — the tools that you learn in therapy are not only helpful for reducing current distress, they will help you for the rest of your life!

How can therapists learn CBT?

The Feeling Good Institute (FGI) is recognized by the American Psychological Association and other therapy associations to provide continuing education for psychologists, social workers, and other types of counselors. At the Feeling Good Institute, we offer cognitive behavioral therapy courses and CBT certification for mental health professionals.

What is TEAM-CBT?

TEAM-CBT is a framework for doing therapy created by Dr. David Burns who is considered one of the forefathers of CBT. He is a renowned psychiatrist and author of best-selling books including Feeling Good: The New Mood TherapyWhen Panic Attacks, and Feeling Great: The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety.

TEAM is an acronym for the four essential components of effective therapy known to improve treatment outcomes: Testing (or measurement), Empathy, Assessment of Resistance, and Methods (more than 50 cognitive and behavioral methods!).

TEAM-CBT is not a new “school” of therapy, but is instead a method for conducting therapy based on the processes that are known to be most effective. When you see a therapist who practices TEAM-CBT you will use measures to track your symptoms over time so as to ensure that you are making progress.

For those struggling with life obstacles you are trying to overcome, the highly trained therapists at the Feeling Good Institute can help you get to the root of the problem and make meaningful changes in a warm, supportive environment.

For therapists, Feeling Good Institute offers TEAM-CBT certification in five levels — from introductory to master level. These levels present a path to building your expertise in TEAM-CBT, acknowledging you for your abilities as you progress. To improve patient outcomes and be the best therapist for your clients, you need practical tools. The trouble is that many therapy training programs teach more theory and less practical tools, are boring, or are plain ineffective. The Feeling Good Institute offers continuing education for therapists where you’ll learn all aspects of how to make therapy more effective. Training is hands-on. Therapists learn by didactic presentation, discussion, deliberate practice exercises, and specific feedback.

If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, work stress, grief, relationship challenges, or other issues, the Feeling Good Institute will match you with a therapist who specializes in helping others like you. And you can feel confident that you are getting a certified therapist who is highly skilled. All of our therapists have had hundreds of hours of Cognitive Behavior Therapy training.

The Feeling Good Institute is on a mission to improve lives with effective therapy. It organizes, trains, and supports the more than 1,000 therapists who successfully practice TEAM-CBT, a form of CBT developed by Dr. David Burns. These highly-qualified therapists have sharpened their expertise at the institute, and countless clients have been taught effective skills they can utilize the rest of their lives through either online sessions or in-person treatment. Schedule a free consultation with a therapist to see if we are right for you at

Citation: MediumCognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques: What Are They and How Do They Work?, Dr. Jill Levitt

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