Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that combines cognitive and behavioral principles for treating various psychological disorders.

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A typical CBT program will run for 12 to 15 weeks and is considered a short-term treatment. CBT is developed under the influence of contemporary psychologists Albert Ellis, Aaron and Judith Beck, and Donald Meichenbaum.

These psychotherapists have, over the years, developed their own, specific cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (e.g. Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Therapy) that are widely-used today.

Because the CBT program is easily quantifiable and testable, it has been the subject of many empirical researches. These studies have proven the effectivity of the psychotherapy in successfully resolving various psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma-related disorders. For instance, in the field of youth and adolescent anxiety, over 40 studies have attested the effectiveness of CBT.

Characteristics of anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are a cluster of mental disorders associated with excessive fear or worry. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5) lists down 11 types of conditions: separation anxiety, selective mutism, specific phobia, social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, and substance-induced anxiety, anxiety due to another medical condition, other specified anxiety disorder, and unspecified anxiety disorder.

The common features or characteristics of all anxiety disorders include severe fear or worry, inability to control such fear, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty in concentration. These symptoms may bring about problems in social and occupational functioning.

Because anxiety disorders are also characterized by negative thought processes and poor means of social adaptations, they have been the subject of many studies involving the use of CBT techniques.

Using CBT to treat anxiety

Like any other psychotherapy, CBT always involves a well-defined knowledge of the patient’s condition, including medical and psychological history, behavioral observations, comorbidities, and psychological evaluation.

The principle of CBT is that negative behavior, thoughts, and affect (emotions) are the products of irrational thinking and beliefs. Therefore, supporters of CBT and psychotherapists focusing their practice on such therapeutic technique describe anxiety disorders as mental conditions produced by irrational thinking and inappropriate ways of coping.

As such, CBT for anxiety initially focuses on helping patients defining and understanding their condition. This is followed by a stream of therapeutic sessions focusing on helping the patient disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs by various techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, mediation, and mindfulness-based therapy.

Patients are taught appropriate means of handling their condition. Reducing the resolution of irrational thoughts and beliefs with these techniques has shown to directly affect the patient’s behavior and emotions. The new thought process is strengthened by adaptive measures that are also inculcated in the patient during therapy.

A particular feature of CBT is the use of assignments or home works. Other psychotherapies are limited to clinic-based treatments; but, CBT aims to further facilitate the positive behavior and cognitive change through home-based exercises.    

Effectivity of CBT in treating anxiety

CBT has been proven by various researches as an effective tool in treating anxiety. Studies conducted to test the effectiveness of the psychotherapy using various inclusion criteria—including age group, demography, case severity, and method—support prior empirical evidences of CBT efficacy in treating anxiety.

For instance, various studies on youth anxiety have revealed positive results. Specific anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety, have been found to be treatable using CBT, as evidence by multiple randomized control trials.

Studies also show that the development of a good therapeutic relationship, comprehensive assessment, cognitive restructuring, and skills training are helpful in achieving greater success during CBT.

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Last Updated: May 10, 2018

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