Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most popular forms of modern psychotherapy, and one of the most well-researched. Established over the course of the last 70 years, CBT treatments today are the result of decades of research into both cognitive and behavioral approaches to talk therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy embraces the benefits and breakthroughs made in the development of both cognitive therapies and behavioral therapies. That means all forms of CBT rely on addressing a person’s negative preconceptions and problematic behaviors to improve their mental health, in a long-term, collaborative process between a client and a professional.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

The modern cognitive behavioral therapy process is centered around a few key principles:

  • A person’s psychological problems are, at least partially, based on unhelpful ways of thinking.
  • A person’s psychological problems are, at least partially, based on unhelpful behavior.
  • A person’s psychological problems can be alleviated through healthier coping skills.

Research into the founding principles that eventually led to the formal development of CBT began in the 1950s but can be conceptually traced back to the earliest days of psychotherapy, including the controversial works of Freud. At the basis of all psychotherapy lies the idea that talking about our thoughts can help us recontextualize them and understand why they’re at the core of our behaviors, both voluntary and involuntary.

The human mind has its own ways of developing cause-and-effect patterns, and not all these patterns are healthy or sensical, even if they share their own internal logic. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves recognizing the cause-and-effect relationship between maladaptive or negative thoughts and actions and working on influencing both to improve emotions, mood, and symptoms of mental health.

Another key aspect of all cognitive behavioral therapy treatments is focusing on the here and now, rather than looking back. While personal history is important for establishing context for a client’s treatment, CBT centers around addressing and improving a client’s self-image and current thought processes.

CBT has different forms. Common ones include rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works

The key principles that guide cognitive behavioral therapy help give clients some idea of what a CBT session might look like. Mental health professionals use different tools, worksheets, and treatment approaches to initiate a session and achieve session-specific goals. As with other therapies, a thorough treatment assessment is important.

Rather than have a non-specific or unhelpful goal, clients work with a peer professional to focus on specific problems, after an initial evaluation session. An early assessment may include asking more about a client’s personal history, their history with mental health issues, their social history, and different ongoing difficulties in their personal and professional lives, as well as perceived positive experiences, and current coping strategies.

From there, clients will work with a professional to choose the scope of their early treatment. Do they want to improve their work-life balance? Focus on reducing a negative self-image and feelings of depression? Is their goal overcoming an addiction?

At this point, a therapist will set a frequency of sessions and begin to pinpoint specific beliefs and behaviors that each session should address, in an order of priority that goes from the most pressing short-term issues to long-term goals, such as negative perceptions about family and deep-seated issues and beliefs that may be contributing to the client’s mental health.

This process is extensive and entirely individualized. Every therapist has their own approach, and every client requires a tailored treatment plan. One of the reasons CBT is so successful is that, despite a rigid framework, the treatment process looks different for every successful client. What might work for one person has no guarantee of working for anyone else.

A skilled professional will know how and when to pivot during treatment, continuously ask for feedback from the client, frequently check in with a client for mood updates and evaluate their emotional state, and measure progress based on how a client’s beliefs and thought patterns change over time.


The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based approach to discerning and addressing negative self-beliefs and destructive habits or behaviors. It combines the concepts of conditioning and associative learning with theories around dysfunctional thinking, and its role in perpetuating unhealthy behaviors and emotions.

A client’s success in CBT relies on their willingness to cooperate and commit to treatment, as well as their level of comfort and trust in the professionals they work with.

The interpersonal relationship between a client and their therapist is key here – CBT requires a client to learn to accept new truths and work on truly believing the affirmations that they are trying to work into their day-to-day lives.

While CBT can be applied as a treatment modality for a variety of mental health issues, it might not always be the best pick. There are other therapies that might be more useful in your case, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), family therapy, or group therapy.


At The Verve, we partner every client with a peer professional who specializes in the types of care that the client needs. As a client’s needs change, so do their program and treatment plan adapt.

While we evaluate a client’s needs individually and tailor their program to suit them, we also strongly believe in the value of a robust and nurturing community. Here at The Verve, we recommend connecting with and sharing experiences with other peers. We believe that formal treatment is often the first step in a lifelong process.


Treatment at The Verve in Washington DC aims to help clients acquire and develop the skills they need to cope with life’s stressors, succeed, and thrive. We work with our clients through every step of the healing process – from the assessment phase to the long-term recovery phase.

Interested in our treatment modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy? Get started with us today by calling (202) 816-6006 or sending us a message via our contact form. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our treatment approach at The Verve, or to talk to a mental health professional.

Recovery from addiction, mental health needs, or whatever life may throw our way, takes more than just a fresh start.

It takes a dedicated support team, a robust recovery community, and a tailored therapeutic program to help you realize your potential. The Verve Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Washington DC is here to help you, your family, and your entire recovery support team navigate the road ahead, together.

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