Cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to treat depression, anxiety, and a full range of other mental disorders. Cognitive therapy operates under the principle that thoughts, belief systems, and biases influence both the emotions an individual experiences and the intensity of those emotions. This type of therapy involves recognizing and changing detrimental thought patterns and reactions.
Though the effect of negative thinking on emotions may seem obvious, many individuals don't realize the impact such thought patterns have on their activities. For example, after experiencing a setback in an activity or pursuit, a person may begin to think he or she will never succeed. As a result, the individual may become depressed and avoid similar activities in the future.
Pioneered by Aaron Beck, M.D, this kind of therapy was originally used solely for the treatment of depression. Later, Dr. Beck and other researchers went on to develop methods for its application to many other psychiatric issues, including substance abuse and anger-management difficulties. Originally, this therapy modality was often compared with behavioral therapy in studies of psychotherapeutic treatments. Today, however, these techniques are often combined in a method called cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive therapy involves replacing negative, maladaptive thoughts with positive and realistic ones. This treatment is not as simple as just having the patient think positive thoughts, however. Often, negative thought patterns are firmly entrenched in an individual's psyche. Frequently, these thoughts occur automatically, without the awareness of the individual experiencing them.
Changing negative thought patterns often requires a process of identifying the undesirable beliefs an individual has about himself and others. Once detrimental thoughts have been identified, the affected individual must learn to dispute them. Essentially, this therapy requires the patient to develop new skills, including those involved in monitoring thought streams and subjecting attitudes and biases to more realistic reasoning. The goal is to make the use of these skills second nature.
This kind of therapy can be lengthy. Change does not happen overnight. Some patients may experience satisfactory results in months, while for others, change may happen over years. However, when the patient makes an effort to use skills developed through therapy in their real life, this method can bring about real and positive change.
Some individuals find cognitive therapy difficult at first. Often, this is due to the fact that it doesn't immediately relieve symptoms. Learning and using skills necessary to change negative thought patterns may be challenging initially. The patient's first attempts may feel awkward. However, with time and application, the outcome of this type of therapy can be well worth the effort.