The Meaning of CBT: What is it?

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Wondering about CBT meaning?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapy that helps people deal with negative thoughts and emotions. 

CBT works by changing the way you think about things like bingeing, so it can help you change your moods and behaviors too.

It is an effective treatment for many psychological problems such as:

  • depression
  • binge eating
  • OCD
  • phobias
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

CBT has been around since 1960 when it was first developed by psychiatrist Aaron Beck. 

Since then many studies have proven CBT’s effectiveness!

In this blog post we will discuss the primary meaning of CBT and how it works. We’ll also include a case study so you can see how everything ties together.

By the end of the post you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether or not Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is right for you!

What Does CBT Mean in Text?

cognitive behavioral therapy diagram

CBT is short for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

The full meaning of the term ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ derives from its  two component parts: Cognitive and Behavioral.

Cognitive is about how we think, feel or believe things to be true, while Behaviors are what we do.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combines these and focuses on changing a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

By doing CBT, you first can change your thoughts and perceptions towards the world.

And once you change your thoughts and feelings, behaviors and moods tend to follow!  

What Is CBT and How Does It Work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered a solution-oriented treatment.

This means that the goal of CBT is to find solutions and not dwell on problems or their causes.

Other types of therapies, like psychodynamic therapy, focus more on the past. In these types of therapies you’ll explore your inner child wounds and trauma.

Critics of CBT say CBT doesn’t delve ‘deep’ enough into the problematic thoughts and emotions. They say these problems originate in childhood.

Despite these criticisms, CBT is one of the most popular and most effective therapies for many psychological problems.

Science of CBT

cognitive behavioral therapy

Here is a science paper titled ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of  Meta-Analyses’.

What is a meta-analysis? A meta-analysis is where scientists gather all (or many) of the studies on a topic and then analyze them as one. Usually 20-30 individual studies are found within a single meta-analysis study.

You can say that a meta-analysis is the scientific way of seeing whether there is consensus about a topic.

What’s crazy is the paper cited above analyzes 269 meta-analysis papers about Cognitive Behavior Therapy! This includes clinical trials where untreated people are compared to those receiving CBT!

This is INCREDIBLY strong science!

And the conclusions for short-term Cognitive Behavioural Therapy treatment for anxiety disorders, depression, and other disorders are truly amazing!

Most scientific claims you hear about on the news only have a few scientific studies in support.

This ‘Review of Meta-Analyses’ looked at 269 studies and shows CBT works. But why?

The Core ‘Self-Monitoring’ CBT Technique

self monitoring cbt cognitive technique

Let’s talk about the key foundation of success within Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

I’m talking about ‘Self-Monitoring’.

Self-monitoring is the practice of keeping records on what we’re feeling before we binge, get anxious, get depressed, etc.

This is done by writing down our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, etc.

The power of writing down your thoughts, feelings and emotions BEFORE the problematic behavior occurs is truly life changing.

I’m sure you noticed how CBT is used to treat a wide range of mental illnesses. Well, this is because self-monitoring works well for almost every problematic behavior!

For example, have you ever tried to mindfully meditate but got lost in your head?

Or maybe you tried to ‘white knuckle’ through anxious thoughts or food cravings but got overwhelmed?

Well, with self-monitoring through journaling, you automatically practice mindful meditation while building up your willpower.

Best part? It’s extremely simple to understand ‘how to’ self-monitor!

(Back when I was a meditation instructor, I would think of metaphors to help people understand how to meditate – like clouds floating through the sky. But when I help people with bingeing by using cognitive therapy, I find it easier to explain self-monitoring!)

When you practice self-monitoring through journaling you are:

  1. Automatically noticing and becoming aware of your feelings!
  2. Building a pause into your routine which is like white knuckling but way different. Because you are not resisting emotions but instead releasing emotions by writing them down on your journal page!
  3. Catching cravings or anxious thoughts BEFORE they have a chance of causing harm.  You catch feelings before they spiral out of control!

Self-monitoring helps identify unhealthy behaviors so you can stop them from happening. It’s really simple. 

By pausing and writing down what you feel, you automatically make wiser decisions!

Self-monitoring can help us identify patterns of thoughts and feelings that lead to future problems or negative outcomes.

It sounds simple. But this treatment technique time and time again is one of the most effective strategies to treat disorders and problems like:

  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Other mental health concerns such as  Binge Eating Disorder
  • Depression

Self-monitoring is ‘why’ CBT works. But self-monitoring alone is not the answer to cure your mental health woes. You are really going to benefit by combining self-monitoring with other CBT techniques.

CBT Techniques

cognitive how to stop thinking about food

Here is a list of CBT techniques and how they work.  Remember that CBT has two key components – cognitive and behavioral.

We’ll list the cognitive therapy techniques first because these are what  you’ll try first in beginning CBT.

Then after that,  we’ll list and explain  the behavioral techniques.

Cognitive Techniques of CBT:

  • Awareness: the technique of noticing how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors change over time. This is a very important aspect in CBT! Because it helps you identify your thinking patterns and cycles that contribute to mental health concerns. It can also be used as a form of self-monitoring!
  • Thought Records: This strategy has two parts. One is identifying thoughts and the secondi is evaluating the accuracy or consequences of those thoughts. The first step involves asking yourself if you are having any negative thoughts.
    • For example, you might think “I’m such a disappointment”.  Then you write them down on paper or on your phone, so they don’t happen again without you even realizing it. Once these have been identified we start to change our thought patterns automatically! And if these thought patterns are resistant to change, there are other CBT techniques!
  • Reality Checking: People often engage in catastrophic thinking.  This is when they think something will be more awful than it really is.
    • For example, a student might think she’ll never get into college because of one bad math grade. This thought pattern can lead to depression. So we break the chain by asking ourselves “what are all the other reasons I could do well in school and leave this one bad grade behind me?”
  • Cognitive Restructuring: We ask ourselves if the thought could be true. If it can’t be fully true, we reject the thought and search for other rational explanations.
    • For example, one might have this belief:  “I am not good enough to succeed in life”. It’s important to first identify what triggered this irrational belief. Perhaps an experience of failure? 
    • Then challenge the idea with questions such as- are there any other reasons I may be able to do well? What successes have I had in my life so far? 
  • Positive Self Talk: After challenging your negative thoughts, you replace them with self-talk based on reality. Most likely you have succeeded in the past, but you are just focusing on your failures. We don’t need to lie to ourselves here, we just need to focus on the truths that we have forgotten.

Behavioral Techniques of CBT:

After you have become more aware of negative thoughts then you are in a much better position to change them for the long term! 

After you have started changing your negative thoughts in treatment then you can change your behavior too!

The behavioral techniques of CBT include:

  • Exposure: Some of the most common exposures involve public speaking. I know that public speaking is not something the many people want to do. But it’s a great way for people who have social anxieties to start changing their behaviors.
  • Practicing new behaviors: A lot of us will avoid doing things because we’re embarrassed or afraid. That’s why practicing some new behaviors can be so powerful! Practice talking in person with someone you don’t know. Practice ordering at a restaurant… Don’t worry about messing up! This is just practice!  After all, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.   🙂
  • Incorporating Feedback: Many people think failure is permanent so their minds shut down. Sadly a mind that is closed is unable to learn new patterns or to learn from mistakes. And then you are bound to repeat the same mistake over and over again! With CBT, you learn how to learn from your mistakes and incorporate feedback.

Pricing and Other CBT Details

CBT typically involves about 12 sessions lasting 60 minutes each, at a cost of approximately $250 per session (this is an average).

(The cost for CBT cognitive sessions here at Eating Enlightenment is  less, if you’re curious.)

This means that at the end of your therapy you will have paid your therapist up to $3000.

For most insurance companies, CBT  would not count toward mental health coverage. But you should check on what your plan covers before committing to treatment.

What is An Example Case Study of CBT?

Here’s an example a real case study of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy from start to finish.

Let’s start off with a person named Mary.

Mary has anxiety so she googles ‘best treatments for anxiety’. Mary reads a blog article and hears about several different therapies for anxiety.

One of the therapies Mary reads about is CBT, but since this is Mary’s first time hearing about CBT she doesn’t go for it initially.

But she keeps researching and almost every other article mentions CBT, so eventually Mary decides to go for it!

Mary reaches out to several therapists in her local area who practice CBT.

She asks about treatment details and wants to know if she can get a free session.

Mary tries out free sessions with three different therapists! It takes her three tries, but finally she really resonates with the third therapist!

The third therapist discusses Mary’s anxiety and her worries about it. Then therapist helps find a way for Mary to face the worries so she can let go of them.

The therapist asks Mary to start writing down what she is feeling when she notices she is anxious.

Mary notices tight feelings in her stomach, chest, and quicker breathing.

By slowing down and writing her feelings out, Mary notices some of her thoughts as well. Mary’s thoughts are anxious and catastrophic:

  • I’m going to fail and be socially awkward
  • Going to be rejected and nobody will like me
  • I’m going to embarrass myself just like I always do

Upon identifying these thoughts, Mary is able to challenge them and practice positive self-talk.

With boosted confidence, Mary then thinks of new behaviors she could try practicing.

Mary decides to raise her voice and stand with a taller posture. People pay more attention to her and welcome her into the group.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy CBT Meaning Final Thoughts

I hope the vignette above helps you understand what CBT means in a practical way for your mental health.

CBT is a type of therapy / psychotherapy that helps patients change negative thoughts and change behavior.

With CBT and working with a therapist, you can reduce stress levels by changing negative habits to positive ones.

There are many ways to practice CBT at home, with a therapist, or in groups with other people who have similar issues as you do!

We hope this post has helped those struggling with anxiety, eating and depression!

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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