Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

A type of psychotherapy that emphasizes the role of thinking patterns in perception and behavior. In essence, its goal is to replace thoughts that lead to undesirable feelings and behaviors with thoughts that lead to more desirable reactions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been used successfully to treat a number of problems, including depression, mood changes, anxiety, compulsion, insomnia, and substance abuse. It has also been used to help people cope better with chronic pain.

People often react negatively to chronic pain. For example, they may feel depressed, anxious, angry, or hopeless. But negative reactions can make painful symptoms worse and can allow pain to interfere more significantly with daily life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people avoid these negative reactions. It can also reinforce positive ways of dealing with pain (such as relaxation techniques) rather than potentially destructive ones (such as self-medicating with alcohol or excessive painkilling medicines). It can help people distract themselves from pain — by focusing on hobbies, for example — rather than dwell on it. Furthermore, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people adhere better to their arthritis self-management routine by replacing negative statements, such as “I’m too tired to exercise today,” with more positive ones, such as “Though I don’t feel like exercising today, I know I’ll feel better once I do.” Studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy can improve symptoms and help stave off depression in people with arthritis.

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

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