The term psychotherapy may conjure the image of lying on a couch talking about your childhood while your long-time psychoanalyst sits behind you taking notes. While that scenario might be accurate for certain types of psychological therapies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a different animal all together.

CBT, also called talk therapy, is widely used to treat depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It's really a blend of two therapies. Cognitive therapy focuses on a person's thoughts and beliefs; behavior therapy focuses on changing unhealthy behavior patterns. CBT helps patients understand their illnesses and gives them strategies and tools to deal with stress.

Here are a few facts about CBT that might surprise you.

Homework. Homework is a critical component of CBT. Your mental health professional will give you specific assignments to practice the techniques you learn during your sessions. Just as you can't learn to play the piano from a one-hour lesson each week, you can't permanently change long-standing behaviors without practice.

Short term. While patients can remain in psychoanalysis for years, CBT patients average 16 sessions with a therapist. Because it's instructive in nature, and because patients receive homework assignments, CBT may actually be one of the most rapid therapies for producing positive results.

Brain changes. Research suggests that CBT might actually change the activity in certain areas of the brain in people with depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as demonstrated by scans of patients' brains. We know CBT is highly effective in treating people with depression when used alone or in conjunction with antidepressants. What's especially surprising, however, is that researchers in one study found that antidepressants affected one part of the brain (the emotional center) while CBT affected an entirely different area (the cortex, which is responsible for reasoning).

Pain and disease management. As further testament to the powerful link between mind and body, CBT helps patients suffering from pain or illness. It makes sense. Being in a bad mood or feeling anxious can increase your perception of pain. Furthermore, people who are in pain tend to catastrophize their problems. In other words, if one thing is bad, they assume everything else also is, and will be, bad. CBT gives pain sufferers a sense of control and helps prevent them from projecting this negativity. CBT is also a treatment of choice for people with primary insomnia (insomnia not caused by another disease) and helps alleviate symptoms in people who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


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