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 short-term treatment. CBT is developed under 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 pieces of research. These studies have proven the effectiveness of psychotherapy in successfully resolving various psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma-related disorders. For instance, in youth and adolescent anxiety, over 40 studies have attested to 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 disorder, and substance-induced anxiety, anxiety due to another medical condition, other specified anxiety disorder, and unspecified anxiety disorder.

All anxiety disorders' common features or characteristics include severe fear or worry, inability to control such fear, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating. 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 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 on such therapeutic techniques describe anxiety disorders as mental conditions produced by irrational thinking and inappropriate coping methods.

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 directly affected 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 facilitate positive behavior and cognitive change through home-based exercises.    

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Effectivity of CBT in treating anxiety

Various researchers have proved CBT 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 evidence 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 treatable using CBT, as evidenced by multiple randomized control trials.

Studies also show that developing a good therapeutic relationship, comprehensive assessment, cognitive restructuring, and skills training help achieve greater success during CBT.

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Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Gaea Marelle Miranda

Written by

Gaea Marelle Miranda

Gaea graduated from the University of the Philippines, Manila, with a degree in Behavioral Sciences, cum laude . Majoring in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, she approaches writing with a multidisciplinary perspective.

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