Cognitive Therapy



Cognitive Therapy, or CT, is a popular form of psychotherapy used for treating an array of mental and even medical health problems that incorporates problem solving, educating, and building skills. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist with a background in psychoanalysis, first developed Cognitive Therapy as a treatment for depression in the 1960s while working at the University of Pennsylvania. Beginning with this man’s research, over 400 studies have confirmed that this form of treatment is highly effective not only in treating depression, but many other common mental disorders as well. The idea behind CT is that our thoughts affect the moods we’re in, so the goal is to replace our negative thoughts with positive ones as a means of overcoming these mental disorders.

Goals of Cognitive Therapy

The main goal of Cognitive Therapy is to change the client’s way of thinking, thereby also changing the client’s emotional responses and behaviors that tend to accompany these thoughts. By recognizing a negative thought for what it is, we become aware of the biases behind them. Once we identify these thoughts, we can consciously change them to positive ones.  This new line of thinking can help patients see the world in an entirely different way by fighting off the negative thoughts. Once this new learning technique becomes a habit, it is more difficult for the patient to relapse back into their state of depression due to the fact that they are now in control of their own thoughts.

When is Cognitive Therapy Used?

Cognitive Therapy is used as treatment for adolescent to adult mental health patients with problems such as depression, general anxiety disorders, panic disorders, stress-related medical disorders, anger, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and even relationship problems. In fact, CT has proven to be just as effective as antidepressants for treating mild to moderate depression. Studies have shown that, partnered with antidepressants, Cognitive Therapy can help to treat chronic or severe depression and even lessen the chance of relapse! Cognitive Therapy can also be used to treat simpler problems such as procrastination. Really, almost everyone can benefit from Cognitive Therapy one way or another.

On top of the mental disorders Cognitive Therapy is used to treat, it can also help some medical health patients as well. Some problems that have been successfully treated with CT are hypertension, chronic pain, insomnia, substance abuse, and fibromyalgia.

How Cognitive Therapy Works

Generally speaking, Cognitive Therapy is a short-term form of treatment, and most patients fall between the 8-16 week range. However, the length of therapy is dependent on the difficulty as well as the nature of the problems. Since the goal is ultimately for the patient to become his or her own therapist, the relationship between patient and therapist is similar to that of a teacher and student, in the sense that the therapy itself is being taught at the same time the patient learns to overcome his or her problem. By treating the patient this way, it allows him or her to be independent so that he or she can solve any future problems themselves.

To start, the patient can expect to take notes of the negative beliefs, behaviors, and emotions they happen to experience. The therapist works through these thoughts with the patient to help identify the bias in such thinking. There are many different categorizations of thoughts that point these out. For example, “all-or-nothing” thinking occurs when someone uses absolute terms such as never, forever, and always and therefore fails to see that there is possibly some middle ground in the situation. “Emotional reasoning” thinking occurs when someone lets their emotions control their thoughts rather than focusing in on just the facts.

Once the patient learns how to identify these biases, they can consciously think positively instead which will therefore affect their behaviors and emotional responses. The patient’s thoughts will continue to be recorded as they progress. Eventually the therapist will be able to “set them free” to take their future problems head-on using their newfound thinking habits.

Criticisms of Cognitive Therapy

While Cognitive Therapy is very popular and used as a standard form of therapy these days in several countries, it is not immune to criticism. Some arguments against CT are that it is too technique oriented, it ignores or devalues the feelings of the patient, the therapists who utilize this treatment can easily become less empathetic if they are too focused on the technique, and that it ignores our seemingly “deeper” issues. However, if its symptom relief the patient is seeking (as should be the case), these critiques matter very little.


A meta-analysis of the efficacy of cognitive therapy for depression. Dobson, Keith S.

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 57(3), Jun 1989, 414-419. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.57.3.414

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Replication and Exploration of Differential Relapse Prevention Effects.Ma, S. Helen; Teasdale, John D.

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 72(1), Feb 2004, 31-40. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.72.1.31

Cognitive Therapy: Basic Principles and Applications.Leahy, Robert L.

Jason Aronson, Incorporated. 1996. 262 pages. ISBN 1461627869, 9781461627869


Help Us Improve This Article

Did you find an inaccuracy? We work hard to provide accurate and scientifically reliable information. If you have found an error of any kind, please let us know by sending an email to, please reference the article title and the issue you found.

Share Therapedia With Others