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The Basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

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The most effective treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is proven to be a reliable and commonly chosen treatment with significant positive results. Using these psychotherapy techniques, all types of anxiety disorders improve. If you have an anxiety disorder and don’t begin treatment, your mental and emotional health could worsen. Learn how cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat your anxiety disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you become aware of unreliable thoughts, emotional responses, or behaviors and choose alternative thoughts, emotional responses, or behaviors.

Some of the anxiety disorders that cognitive behavioral therapy treats include:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety

Cognitive-based treatment is effective for anxiety disorders because it helps you identify your negative thinking and behavioral patterns; then, you can start to reshape them.

This type of psychotherapy starts with identifying and reshaping negative thoughts or behaviors. Therapists use techniques to help you identify the thoughts and behaviors that are harmful to your mental and emotional health. The techniques help improve your interpretations and are easy to do.

The reshaping of faulty interpretations that negatively affect your mental and emotional health is what relieves the anxiety symptoms. These faulty interpretations connect to thoughts and behaviors you’d like to improve. Cognitive treatment uses holistic techniques that soothe anxiety disorders.

You can identify the root cause of the anxiety symptom by doing an exploration of the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as a whole. If you’re anxious and have a generalized anxiety disorder, the therapist could use a combination of techniques that strengthens your mental and emotional health, as well as your behaviors. First, the therapist can use a cognitive reframing technique that reshapes your thoughts and then journaling to help you discover the emotion the thought activates.

The Length of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The length of your cognitive behavioral therapy sessions depends on whether your anxiety disorder symptoms are mild or significant. According to the American Psychological Association, 50% of patients need at least 15 to 20 sessions to recover.  For some patients, the anxiety disorder improves in weeks, while it can take months for others.

Each of the cognitive behavioral therapy sessions has a goal that is accomplished before continuing. You need to put in the effort and do what the therapist encourages you to do; this allows the anxiety disorder to improve. For example, if you have a phobia about driving on the freeway and the therapist encourages you to practice rational thoughts (along with other techniques), you need to practice at a pace that’s right for you to see the results.

The Steps of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy has a procedure that you and your therapist follow. The therapist’s and your participation are important for successful results. The steps of cognitive behavioral therapy are:

  1. The therapist explores your life to help you identify an obstacle that needs a resolution. Whether it’s an obsessive-compulsive disorder, intrusive thoughts, or a phobia, the therapist can help you overcome it.
  2. Become attentive to your thoughts and emotions when you think about the obstacle. You must track your thoughts and emotions in a journal. The therapist can help you analyze the thoughts that activate negative emotions and determine whether they are faulty.
  3. Be mindful of your (cognitive and behavioral) responses and determine whether the thoughts are faulty or facts. This helps you become aware of the reoccurring thoughts and emotions that are like themes.
  4. Change your interpretation of the obstacle if it’s faulty and not a fact. The therapist uses a series of questions and other techniques to help you realize if your thoughts are faulty.

Case Study

Linda has obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the first session with the therapist, she tells her story on the instances when she counted her wardrobe and had to organize the items at least five times each day. Her wardrobe is a color palette that has a variety of soothing shades. The therapist explores her life and determines that obsessive-compulsive disorder is an obstacle that she needs to overcome.

The therapist gets her to clarify the thoughts and interpretations she has before and during the obsessive-compulsive behavior. She’s asked to track her thoughts and emotions because it can help her be more attentive, while also being mindful.

As Linda tracks her thoughts and emotions, she realizes that her interpretation was “I’m irresponsible if I don’t organize and count my wardrobe five times each day.” She discovers that organizing and counting her wardrobe at least five times each day helps her feel responsible.

Faulty thought: I’m not a responsible person if I don’t organize and count the items in my wardrobe five times each day.

Cognitive distortion: Overgeneralization.

Rational thought: I’m a responsible person because that’s determined by how I respond to situations in my life. I’m always in control of my responses and can choose to respond mindfully.

The therapist uses a series of questions and other techniques to help her determine whether that thought is faulty or a fact. Clarifying the faulty thought and cognitive distortion helped the therapist encourage rational thought. During the therapy sessions, they’re able to look for evidence of ways that she’s responsible. This gives Linda the assurance that her thought is faulty, and she’s able to easily change the interpretation, which results in improved behavior.

Cognitive Reframing Technique

Cognitive reframing helps you become aware of negative thought patterns and choose realistic thoughts.  It consists of in-depth exploration and questioning of your negative thoughts. The goals of cognitive reframing are to help you:

  • identify faulty thoughts and reshape them
  • improve the faulty thoughts that activate negative emotion
  • respond to obstacles with a mindset that supports your mental health
  • feel empowered
  • get an improved point of view
  • interpret the incidents that have a negative effect on you

The therapist is going to encourage you to keep a record of recurring faulty thoughts, to help with your self-awareness. You discover your most common faulty thoughts. Once you get clarity on those negative thoughts, you can start to reshape them.

Would you like to change your mindset by questioning your negative thoughts? Become aware and keep track of them. For example, if you’re an introvert with social anxiety, you’ll notice reoccurring thoughts when going to places with crowds. You start to have thoughts like, “What if I get too anxious? There’s nothing to say. I’m going to be the outcast.” You track these thoughts on paper, and then you question and look for proof that these thoughts are faulty.

The interpretations that you give to each negative instance are either distorted or based on facts. The distorted interpretation can cause you to feel anxious or depressed. Questioning the distorted interpretations (and all the thoughts connected to them) can help you feel relief.

Therapists use the Socratic Questioning Method to help you determine if a thought is faulty. You clarify your interpretations by answering important questions. Some questions that therapists ask you include:

  • Is there proof that this thought is true?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • Is there a different point of view?

You and your therapist identify the evidence of how your interpretation is true or faulty. List the proof that helps determine whether the interpretation is true or faulty. Look for evidence that contradicts the faulty thought. To make this easier, use a mind map. On a piece of paper, write your interpretation and thoughts in the center. Then draw vertical lines around the words. Write the evidence that could make your interpretation faulty. Use the backside of the paper and draw a new mind map for the evidence that could make your interpretation true.

Then your therapist helps you think of the rational thought that’s based on facts. You get a new point of view on the incident, and your interpretation reshapes to one that supports your mental health.

You have learned the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy: the length of treatment, the common steps, and the cognitive reframing technique. If you have an anxiety disorder that you’d like to heal, talk to a therapist and start your cognitive behavioral therapy treatment.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: This article was written by Laura Delacruz. She is a content writer specializing in psychological, emotional, and mental health content. Read the articles she wrote at Contently. When not writing, she’s nourishing her plants.

Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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1 thoughts on “The Basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

  1. Karen Nyasha Marasha says:

    A very informative piece. I had depression some years ago and had CBT with my therapist. It really does help. Journaling helps you express yourself privately and you can be honest with yourself.

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