Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts influence our emotions and behaviors and that many problems in life are the result of dysfunctional thinking. It focuses on a person’s current situation, rather than the past, and looks for solutions to problems in the present.
Cognitive therapy helps people achieve specific goals or changes in their lives. It does this by focusing on their views and beliefs about their lives, rather than their personality, upbringing, past trauma, or mental illness. Cognitive therapy aims to replace old, dysfunctional ways of living and thinking, with ways of living that work for them, giving them a sense of greater control and satisfaction.
Three Features of Cognitive Therapy
1. Cognitive therapy focuses on the present, not the past. If a person is looking to understand how childhood relationships with parents may have shaped his or her personality, cognitive therapy will not be of much help. But if someone is stuck on a problem in the present, such as conflicts in the workplace or feeling paralyzed by depression, a cognitive approach offers ways to get unstuck.
2. Cognitive therapy is results-oriented. It focuses on solving specific problems (e.g., improving working memory for better performance on a job, or overcoming a fear of crowded spaces). For that reason, it is usually time-limited with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end.
3. Cognitive therapy involves learning of skills. In cognitive therapy, people learn actual skills that can help them identify, understand, and change their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Although trust and rapport are important, the therapeutic relationship is more about teaching and learning than it is about healing.
Cognitive therapy can take different forms. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) usually takes place in a one-to-one relationship with a psychotherapist. Cognitive Remediation (CR) is a type of rehabilitation therapy that uses a combination of computer exercises and group discussions to improve functioning in targeted areas of cognition, such as attention, memory, and problem solving.