According to the National Institute on Mental Health, 40 million American adults, 18 percent of the population, have anxiety disorders, while another 14.8 million, 6.7 percent, suffer from depression. Both are treatable conditions, and frequently people have a dual diagnosis of anxiety and depression.
While medication is often the first line of treatment, some milder forms of depression and anxiety may respond to therapy alone. However, with major depression and some anxieties, a combination of therapy and medication is usually the most successful treatment plan.
Cognitive therapy entered the world of psychotherapy in the 1960s, with the work of Dr. Aaron Beck. In the 1970s, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) became a mainstream field of psychotherapy. CBT is a widely accepted and used form of psychotherapy and encompasses many variations of therapy under the umbrella term of CBT. These have in common the belief that feelings and behaviors are influenced by thinking patterns. If a person learns to recognize faulty or negative thinking and set up new healthy ways of thinking about themselves and situations, their emotions and behaviors will become healthier as well.
The patient is a key participant in CBT. The therapist’s role is more that of a guide and helper. In CBT, the treatment is focused on the patient’s current situation and problems. As such, the therapy is goal-oriented and shorter in duration than typical psychotherapies.
The usual number of sessions for CBT is 16 or so. The patient and therapist set specific goals for treatment, and when the goal is reached, therapy has ended. It’s not open-ended. However, the patient must do work outside of sessions, such as reading and doing exercises. This empowers the patient, who can build on experiences outside of therapy.
CBT begins by examining the patient’s thoughts. She will discover what automatic thoughts are, how to evaluate their validity and, if faulty, how to develop new thinking patterns. The connection between thought processes, emotions and, finally, behavior will be explored. For anxiety patients, exposure therapy might be undertaken, where the patient will face feared situations in a safe and supported way and learn how to deal with the anxiety. Over time, and repeated and lengthened experiences, the patient will become less anxious and more prepared to deal with the anxiety-inducers. Depressed patients will learn to ignore negative self-talk and focus on a less stilted view of themselves and reality so that they can begin to live in a more positive and pleasurable way.
The goal of CBT is to change the way a person thinks and views life, so that emotions and behaviors are more positive and productive. He will learn to recognize patterns that are negative and get in the way of happiness and success in all areas of life. Should a new issue or problem crop up once therapy has ended, the patient will have tools to help.