What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that teaches people specific cognitive and behavioral skills to help them manage depression, mood swings, anxiety, stress and other problems. Typically, CBT involves a very structured systematic approach in which clients are taught specific techniques to address problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are interfering with their lives. CBT has a strong research and scientific evidence base that demonstrates its effectiveness for a wide range of disorders.

What to Expect as a Client in CBT

Collaboration: Working Together Toward Your Goals. Cognitive behavioral therapy uses a collaborative approach in which the therapist and client work together to develop specific goals for treatment, identify specific problems and develop solutions. From the initial session, I will emphasize that therapy is a working partnership and that successful treatment depends on active participation in therapy and a willingness to engage in new behaviors and to test out new ways of thinking. The most effective approach to exploring problems and developing solutions is not giving advice or direction but helping clients discover helpful solutions using open-ended questioning and exploration sometimes called “Socratic Questioning”.

An Active and Structured Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy tends to be an active, directive, structured type of therapy in which each session has a specific “agenda” or set of problems to be worked on that is mutually identified by the client and the therapist. You are expected to be an active partner in therapy including identifying problems, setting the agenda for sessions, trying out new thoughts and behaviors, setting up experiments to test out and develop solutions, and doing activities between sessions (called 'action plans' or 'homework'). I will also ask you to give me periodic feedback to the therapist about how things are going in the therapy and to identify any concerns or issues about treatment.

What Does a Typical CBT Session Look Like?

Most appointments in cognitive behavioral therapy are more structured than in other therapies and typically have many of the following components:

  • A “check-in”  which includes a review of symptoms or problems over the past week; and, a discussion of "You at your best".
  • Setting the agenda- developing a plan for the session in terms of the most important topics.
  • Review of the homework- reviewing any homework assigned in the past session with a special emphasis on problem-solving if there were any problems completing homework or barriers.
  • Working through problems on the agenda.
  • Summarizing the session and assigning homework.

Not all sessions are this structured and sessions may vary a good deal in content. The goal is to make efficient use of therapy time by carefully structuring the therapy session in order to be most productive.

The Use of Action Plans in CBT

The use of 'action plans'or 'home practice' -- asking you to experiment with new ways of thinking or behaving outside our sessions -- is an important part of cognitive therapy that extends the effectiveness of therapy into your life and encourages practicing new skills and behaviors outside the therapy session.

For a description of CBT, visit
The National Institutes of Mental Health's Description of CBT.