Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

By Robert S. Dinsmoor

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a form of behavior therapy that focuses on the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behavior. People who are depressed, anxious or in chronic pain may be holding onto negative thoughts such as “I am worthless,” “I am in danger” or “My pain will never let up.” CBT helps patients recognize irrational throughts—for example, perceptions that are distorted by magnification or overgeneralization—and restructure them into more realistic thoughts. Individuals participating in CBT are encouraged to write down their thoughts so that they and their therapists can identify negative thought patterns that can lead to self-destructive behaviors. They then can examine these ideas, decide whether they are realistic and perhaps modify them into more reasonable ways of thinking.

Studies have shown CBT is as useful as antidepressants for treating depression and may decrease the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks. CBT can be used in people with chronic pain to address “pain catastrophizing,” in which the individual magnifies the threat of pain, obsesses over it and feels unable to cope with it. CBT typically incorporates relaxation training and working toward goals of increased exercise and activities in general. Research has shown CBT has beneficial effects on quality of life in patients with various types of chronic pain, including back pain, arthritis pain and fibromyalgia pain.

Last Reviewed 01/04/16

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Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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