Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Cognitive- Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Diagnosis and Treatment - Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

One therapy that has proven successful for disorders including anxiety, panic and obsessive-compulsive disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Unlike general counseling, CBT is an intensive and structured therapy focusing upon changing the brain's responses to specific stressors - such as in cases of phobias or anxiety - rather than focusing upon the stressors themselves. Another key difference of CBT from general counseling is that CBT most often begins by establishing a set timeframe for the completion of the therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works with mental responses which are "automatic," in that they are the result of years of negative conditioning and self-conditioning and may not be immediately recognizable to the patient. Brain imaging has recently shown that this form of therapy physically alters the brain by causing it to change the structure and function of its own neurotransmitters, using only its own thought processes to do so.

A few of the techniques used in cognitive-behavioral therapy include:

  • Identifying, and replacing, negative mental messages with positive ones
  • Addressing self-defeating "what if" questions by making the patient ask different questions of themselves - in essence, questioning their own questions
  • Modifying behavior patterns by replacing destructive habits with helpful habits
  • Desensitization therapy, where a patient is gradually exposed to a situation or thing which makes them fearful (first by visualization, then in real life) while working upon changing the fear response
  • Homework - exercises for the patient to complete between sessions, in which they work upon real-life application of techniques learned in the therapy sessions