According to the Beck Institute, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, has been shown in more than 1,000 research studies to be effective for many different disorders and problems. It is a solution-focused approach to treatment, oriented toward solving problems and learning skills. Despite this, there are many misconceptions regarding CBT. Here are six of the most common:

1. The relationship between the therapist and client is not important.

This could not be further from the truth. While it is not believed that the therapeutic alliance alone can bring about positive change, it is required for effective CBT. The relationship between client and therapist should be one of collaboration, of two individuals coming together in order to effectively problem solve. A good therapist will seek and actively respond to feedback. A therapist should conduct themselves in such a way that they are seen as warm, genuine, empathic human beings. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist or doubt that they really care about you and your progress, it may be something to discuss with them and explore.

2. CBT doesn’t deal with emotions.

Many people believe that CBT therapists ignore the emotion and strictly focus on the thoughts and behaviors of their clients. While it is true that the interventions in CBT are centered around changing thoughts and behaviors, the emotions that result from them is important to the process. A good therapist makes connections between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Our thoughts lead to our emotions which inform our actions and behaviors which in turn lead to more thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A good therapist can jump into this cycle at any point and offer suggestions of how to make positive changes. Sometimes it is easiest to see the display of emotion and begin interventions there.

3. It only addresses the symptoms and does not provide insight or change on a deeper level.

Due to the media portrayal (as well as many therapists claiming to practice CBT who really aren’t), many believe that CBT simply addresses surface level change. On the contrary, for clients to improve, they need to understand themselves well. They need to know why it is that they are feeling upset and/or behaving in an unhelpful way. In therapy, clients will discover underlying core beliefs that influence the way that they think and behave. Only then can long-term change really take place that can assist clients to prevent or become aware of relapse.

4. CBT is mechanical and technique-driven.

Many people think that CBT is about consulting a manual and applying technique X to problem Y. While there are scientifically backed interventions that have been demonstrated to help clients overcome certain issues, it is hardly a one-size-fits-all approach. No two clients are identical, nor are they guaranteed to respond the same way to a particular intervention. Clinicians must be flexible and able to adapt to the unique needs of each client.

5. It’s just about positive thinking.

Many people are under the impression that cognitive therapy is about changing negative thoughts into positive ones. While clients are taught to think differently and encouraged to analyze their thoughts more objectively, a therapist should not encourage clients to just think positively. After all, sometimes when people think negatively about things, they’re right. Your boss might really be a jerk! Sometimes our negative thoughts help to keep us safe as well. At other times, our negative thoughts about certain situations or even people may have served a positive role in the past but are no longer be necessary or helpful now. Which brings me to my last misconception:

6. Cognitive therapy doesn’t care about the past.

While I frequently work with my clients to become more present-focused, it is important for them to sometimes analyze and think about their previous experiences. When a person suffers from Panic Disorder and lives in constant fear that their next panic attack may be fatal, I help them think about all the times in the past when this has not been true. Taking a critical look into the past can also help clients to recognize patterns in order to predict and alter future behavior. Talking with clients about their past also helps me to identify their negative core beliefs so that together we can work to reshape these beliefs into more adaptive thoughts about themselves, others, and the world.

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