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Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Effective?

By Coral Mesika
 John Moore (Illustration)
*updated 2022
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known as CBT) is a therapy practice invented by psychiatrist Aaron Beck. It focuses on targeting behavioral and thought patterns in order to help solve one’s issues. Although CBT is considered a very common practice today, it has only been around since the 1960’s. It first emerged as a result of a widespread rejection of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Since then, the 20th and 21st centuries have given the stage to many new theories and developments in the therapeutic field. When choosing to go to therapy, should people consider CBT?
Here are three reasons why CBT is an effective form of therapy, and three reasons why it may not be the right choice.


Arguments for CBT


Focuses on the Present

CBT focuses on behavioral patterns present in one’s life, and on changing one’s attitude in order to solve their problems. CBT looks for practical ways to improve one’s thoughts on a daily basis, without digging too far into the past. This means that the patient has an active role throughout their therapy process. For example, the patient can reframe negative thoughts as events or temporary ideas in their mind and learn how to step back and manage them in healthy, constructive manners.


Provides Coping Strategies

In the video “What is CBT? Making Sense of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” “We are Mind” explain that CBT emphasizes that how one thinks directly affects how he/she behaves. There are triggers that activate thoughts, which cause negative feelings, which then lead to behaviors that form patterns or “habits.” For example, CBT therapists will help alcoholics identify triggers that contribute to their alcohol dependency, such as social anxiety. Then, they’ll work on skills to combat the social anxiety. In other words, CBT breaks bad habits and helps the person understand why they formed in the first place.


Works fast

CBT is known to have very fast results in comparison to other forms of therapy. For example, in a study of 488 children with diagnosed anxiety, 60% showed clinical improvements after just 12 weeks of CBT. The number of sessions needed depends on the individual patient, but on average, CBT lasts about 12 weeks with one session per week (50- 60 minutes). This method can be very attractive to a large audience, as it is cost-efficient and lasts for just a few months. CBT is also proving to be effective in the digital age, with therapists offering supplemental treatments with phone apps.

Arguments Against CBT


Doesn’t Address Core Issues.  

As opposed to psychoanalysis, CBT does not address childhood experiences or other family-oriented feelings. These issues might play a big role on one’s behavior or on their growth as an individual. According to Freud, the Oral, Anal and Phallic stages are critical in a baby\toddler’s life and sculpt the way they will act in the future. According to The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis, CBT might only be a temporary solution for a bigger problem that needs to be confronted.


Requires Individual Work.

CBT has a very structured nature and requires a serious commitment in order to see results. The commitment cannot only be to come to therapy sessions, but to also continue with homework and exercises from session to session. Patients might not be capable of doing exercises alone or progressing by themselves in general. As CBT confronts emotions and anxieties head-on, it may be difficult to do additional homework after therapy sessions that are emotionally exhausting.


Lacks Emotional Support.

Because CBT focuses on active methods of developing coping strategies, one might feel they are not receiving enough emotional support from their therapist. CBT is a talking form of therapy, so patients with certain emotional difficulties might feel a lack of emotional containment throughout the process. Research shows that empathy is essential for a productive patient-therapist relationship, but the goal-oriented nature of CBT makes it difficult for empathy to be present. As a result, the patient may feel a lack of emotional support, which would render the therapy useless.


Bottom Line: CBT can be a helpful form of therapy for some, by working quickly and providing coping strategies to those in need. However, CBT may not be effective in tackling everyone’s various emotional issues. What do you think? Would you recommend CBT as a form of therapy?

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