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Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered to be one of the most rapid therapies there is when it comes to getting quick results.

CBT is both brief and time-limited in comparison to other types of therapy. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is based upon the idea that our thoughts, not external events like people or situations, are actually the cause of our feelings and behaviors.

What this tells us is that we have a lot more control than we think and we can change things by changing our thoughts. In light of this, we have to ask ourselves what the research says about this groundbreaking therapy.

In this article, we will examine the scientific benefits as well as the research of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

What are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, CBT is based on the cognitive model of emotional response. This model tells us that our feelings and behaviors stem from our thoughts, as opposed to external stimuli. CBT is a goal-oriented and problem-focused therapy, unlike its psychoanalytical predecessors.

As a result of this, CBT focuses on the present and on the here and now, rather than on a lengthy analysis of the subject’s developmental history.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is known for its quick results. Both therapists and psychologists use CBT in the treatment of certain mental disorders.

The average amount of sessions a patient receives is 15. In comparison, other kinds of therapy may take months or even years of regular sessions in order to see results.

Other advantages of CBT include the fact that it:

- Highly engaging

- Holds the patient accountable for the therapeutic outcome

- Centered on the idea that one’s emotions and thoughts are responsible for how they behave and feel

While CBT may not work for those with severe mental disorders or those with learning difficulties, it is a great form of therapy for helping people accept and understand that they can change things by simply changing their thoughts.

This is a major advantage because it helps people understand that altering their thought processes can lead to a positive outcome. This is a much different type of therapy in comparison to more traditional therapy, which typically focuses on trying to change or re-evaluate past actions or fears.

A Look at the Research

Numerous random controlled trials have established that Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) for children has many benefits.

Trauma-Focused CBT focuses on reducing both emotional and behavioral symptoms resulting from exposure to traumas. TF-CBT has been shown to decrease posttraumatic stress symptoms that may result from abuse-related fears, depression, anxiety, shame, and sexualized behavior, to name a few.

Study Number One

Preschoolers who received TF-CBT showed greater improvement when it came to internalizing and externalizing behaviors and sexual behaviors in comparison to children who received nondirective supportive therapy.

In the study, behavior problems including sexual behaviors continued to improve after the end of treatment. (Cohen & Mannarino, 1997)

Study Number Two

Parental involvement in TF-CBT was associated with a decrease in child depression as well as a decrease in PTSD symptoms. Three out of four initial treatment outcomes were maintained at a two-year follow-up, with TF-CBT showing superior outcomes to standard community care.

According to research done by Turner & Swearer Napolitano (2010) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, CBT encompasses several different approaches that share the same theoretical underpinnings.

These therapeutic approaches include:

Rational Emotive Therapy

Cognitive Therapy

Rational Behavior Therapy

Rational Living Therapy

Schema-Focused Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

CBT has also been used to help those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The components of CBT used in the treatment of OCD include exposure and response prevention as well as cognitive interventions, according to Olatunji, Cisler & Deacon (2010).

In three studies that were examined for the use of CBT in treating OCD, a large effect was found. The results were the largest effect size (1.37 or 95% CI 0.64-2.20) for CBT in any anxiety disorder.

These studies demonstrate that patients receiving CBT exhibited significantly fewer symptoms post-treatment when compared to those who received typical treatment.

The meta-analyses confirm that CBT is by far the most consistently empirically supported psychotherapeutic option when it comes to treating anxiety disorders, which makes it the gold standard treatment for those with anxiety (Olatunji, Cisler & Deacon, 2010).

Benefits of CBT for Anxiety

CBT is also been proven to be a good therapy for anxiety disorders. Otte (2011) examined a plethora of studies on the effectiveness of CBT for adult anxiety disorders.

According to Otte, CBT demonstrates both efficacy and effectiveness in randomized trials in naturalistic settings in the treatment of adult anxiety disorders.

Five studies reviewed the efficacy of CBT for panic disorders in a randomized placebo-controlled design. The effect size was 0.35 (95% CI 0.04-0.65), which indicates a small to medium effect.

Generalized anxiety disorder, marked by excessive and uncontrollable worry, was also studied.

CBT in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder involves cognitive therapy, which is designed to examine the worry, and cognitive biases and relaxation to help with tension.

The controlled effect size for CBT in generalized anxiety disorder was 0.51 or 95% (CI 0.05-0.97) according to Otte.

CBT was also used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD includes:

Psychoeducation about the nature of fear and anxiety.

Controlled prolonged exposure to issues related to the traumatic event.

Cognitive restructuring, processing or challenging maladaptive behaviors.

The results of six CBT studies that were randomized and placebo-controlled for PTSD showed a controlled effect size of 0.62 or 95% which indicates a medium effect. (Otte, 2011).

These favorable effects of CBT are further corroborated by several Cochrane analyses of psychological treatments for several anxiety disorders according to the research. (Otte, 2011).

Can CBT Help with Depression?

Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer & Fang, (2012) identified 269 meta-analytical studies examining the efficacy of CBT.

The research examined disorders such as:

Substance use disorders

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders

Depression and Bipolar disorder

Anxiety Disorders

Somatoform disorders

Eating disordersInsomnia

Personality Disorders

Aggression, Anger and Criminal behaviors

Stress in general

Distress due to medical conditions

Chronic pain and fatigue

Female hormonal conditions as well as pregnancy-related distress

The strongest support was seen for th