People often come to therapy with many misconceptions about what the therapy experience will be like. They picture reclining on a couch, the therapist interpreting dreams, or talking about unconscious conflicts. These types of therapy are somewhat outdated. Therapy today is a much more active and collaborative process. Often it involves learning new skills to managing challenging thoughts, feelings and situations, which might be why some people have described therapy with me as a bit like "taking a class on emotions".
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a broad term that refers to treatment protocols that are well supported by research studies. Although treatments falling under the umbrella of CBT may vary in their emphasis, the general premise of CBT is that thoughts, feeling, and behaviors are interrelated and that the interaction between these three variables largely influences our day to day perceptions and experiences.
It is unfortunate that due to the popularity of CBT, many well-intended therapists will say they are "doing CBT" when in fact they are providing some other form of therapy, or focusing solely on cognitions (thoughts) and neglecting the behavioral peice. For that reason, it is totally appropriate to ask a new, potential therapist about the training they have received in CBT.
Knowing what CBT is supposed to look like can help you figure out if you're receiving the type of therapy you want.
Examples of the "C" - the Cognitive Piece of CBT:
Learning how to differentiate thoughts from feelings
Learning how thoughts may influence feelings and behavioral patterns
Learning how to spot unhelpful thinking patterns and either modify these patterns or relate to these thoughts differently
Learning how to think critically and evaluate the evidence for or against unhelpful thoughts in order to develop and maintaining healthier thinking patterns
Learning how to be mindful of one's experiences and maintain a sense of neutrality or nonjudgmental awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and experiences
Examples of the "B" - the Behavioral Piece of CBT:
Learning how to modify particular behaviors, including avoidance behaviors or acting out behaviors. This might include learning new skills for what do when feeling sad, angry or afraid
Being encouraged, with the support of a therapist, to approach feared or avoided situations. This is commonly referred to as "Exposure Therapy"
Conducting behavioral experiments to determine if what one predicts about a situation actually proves true
Monitoring activity level & learning how activity level affects mood (also known as Behavioral Activation)
Specific Treatments that Fall Under the CBT Umbrella that are Well Supported by the Literature:
Exposure and Response Prevention for OCD
Behavioral Therapy/Behavioral Activation for Depression