What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Last week we wrote about why to seek the help of a psychologist, what are all the possibilities we have for seeking help and where to start seeking help at all. We also started the topic of the most popular psychotherapeutic directions. This week we will focus on probably the most popular psychotherapeutic direction, cognitive behavioral therapy.

But what is actually cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) is a psychotherapeutic direction that emerged in the 1960s, and its originator is considered to be Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive behavioral therapy is primarily focused on changes in the way of thinking and behaving, with the goals of developing more positive thoughts and improving daily functioning. In a way, it is created by “combining” ideas from the behavioral and cognitive approach to therapy, how thoughts and behaviors almost always interact and influence each other. It is a sciencebased approach to therapy that is effective for a wide range of problems, such as phobias, depression, anxiety, etc. Cognitive behavioral therapy works with the idea that an individual can always learn to deal more effectively with their problems, to reduce suffering and improve own functioning.

The goal of the behavioral side of this approach is to change problematic behaviors, the focus is on what we can see “from the outside”. In this form of therapy we must be extremely active, have adequate motivation and participate in our own treatment. The cognitive side of this therapy, as its name suggests, is based on working on problematic thoughts. The goal is to learn to recognize and tolerate our symptoms, and to learn to independently correct mental errors in the processes of interpretation, evaluation, inference, understanding, and decision making. We also focus on changing problematic beliefs about ourselves, the environment, the world around us and other people in our lives, but also on changing the beliefs we have about the past and future, as they often affect the onset and maintenance of mental disorders.

How does cognitive behavioral therapy work?

We cannot engage in therapy until we learn some basics about how this approach works. It will also be very important to us how long the therapy will last, and how often we should go for it.

  • Therapy is relatively short and effective, a relatively small number of meetings are enough to achieve results.
  • It is extremely structured, we are gradually progressing towards pre-set goals, depending on the problem that is bothering us.
  • During therapy, we focus on specific problems, and this allows us to measure and evaluate progress.
  • This form of therapy is educational, when we work with a therapist we simultaneously learn techniques that we will be able to apply independently.
  • The basis of this approach is common sense, so that during therapy we will very easily notice the logic behind certain procedures and techniques. The therapist will clarify everything he does so that we can understand what his approach to work is based on.
  • The focus of this form of therapy is on how we think, how we behave and how we communicate now, in this moment, so that our work during therapy is applicable immediately and now.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on our active cooperation with the therapist, during which we must be extremely active and engaged, and therefore this type of therapy is extremely dynamic and interesting.
  • During therapy, we are regularly given homework. on which great weight is placed. After the meeting, we usually have to practice the techniques we learned in therapy on our own, in order to become independent as soon as possible. The ultimate goal is to learn how to deal with a problem on our own, if it arises.

What types of cognitive-behavioral therapy exist?

This approach to therapy involves multiple ways of working with patients, and different psychotherapists prefer different ways of working. Cognitive behavioral therapy has multiple ways of accessing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Although these approaches have not insignificant differences, they all have a similar basis on which they operate.

  • Rational emotional behavioral therapy (REBT) involves the identification of irrational beliefs, and in it we actively confront such beliefs, seeking to learn how to recognize and modify them.
  • Cognitive therapy is primarily focused on changing inaccurate and distorted patterns of thinking, as well as incorrect emotional responses and unacceptable behaviors.
  • Multimodal therapy basically tries solving psychological problems by dealing with seven related but different modalities: biological factors, interpersonal factors, cognitions, images, impressions, affects, and behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on behaviors and thoughts, but includes strategies such as emotional regulation and mindfulness.

Now that we have learned what cognitive behavioral therapy is, how it actually works, and what types exist, we will now address whether it is for us at all. If we decide that it is, we will also learn what to expect from meeting a therapist, how they can help us, and how to find a psychotherapist in general.


Cherry, K. (2021). How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Works. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cognitive-behavior-therapy-2795747.

Kognitivno-bihevioralna terapija – kome je potrebna, kako se provodi i gdje ju potražiti. Kreni zdravo! (2020). https://www.krenizdravo.hr/zdravlje/mentalno_zdravlje/kognitivno-bihevioralna-terapija-kome-je-potrebna-kako-se-provodi-i-gdje-ju-potraziti.

Kognitivno-bihevioralna terapija. Opće informacije o kognitivno-bihevioralnoj terapiji | KBT OPCIJA. (n.d.). https://kbt-barbaric.com/kbt/o-kognitivno-bihevioralnoj-terapiji/.

Što je BKT. Hrvatsko udruženje za bihevioralno-kognitivne terapije. (n.d.). https://cabct.hr/savjetovaliste/sto-je-bkt.

Što je kognitivno bihevioralna terapija: sinteza dva terapijska pravca. Poliklinika za zaštitu djece i mladih grada Zagreba. (2019). https://www.poliklinika-djeca.hr/aktualno/teme/sto-je-kognitivno-bihevioralna-terapija-sinteza-dva-terapijska-pravca/.

The Development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Foundations Recovery Network. (2020). https://www.foundationsrecoverynetwork.com/development-cognitive-behavioral-therapy/.

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