Before embarking on a task that normally makes you anxious, you’ll be asked to predict what will happen. Later, you’ll talk about whether the prediction came true.

Over time, you may start to see that the predicted catastrophe is actually not very likely to happen. You’ll likely start with lower-anxiety tasks and build up from there.

7. Relaxation and stress reduction techniques

In CBT, you may be taught some progressive relaxation techniques, such as:

You’ll learn practical skills to help lower stress and increase your sense of control. This can be helpful in dealing with phobias, social anxieties, and other stressors.

8. Role playing

Role playing can help you work through different behaviors in potentially difficult situations. Playing out possible scenarios can lessen fear and can be used for:

  • improving problem solving skills
  • gaining familiarity and confidence in certain situations
  • practicing social skills
  • assertiveness training
  • improving communication skills

9. Successive approximation

This involves taking tasks that seem overwhelming and breaking them into smaller, more achievable steps. Each successive step builds upon the previous steps so you gain confidence as you go, bit by bit.

What happens during a CBT session?

In your first session, you’ll help the therapist understand the problem you’re dealing with and what you hope to achieve with CBT. The therapist will then formulate a plan to achieve a specific goal.

Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-limited

Depending on your situation and your SMART goals, the therapist might recommend individual, family, or group therapy.

Sessions generally last about an hour and take place once a week, though this can vary according to individual needs and availability.

Homework is also part of the process, so you’ll be asked to fill out worksheets, a journal, or perform certain tasks between sessions.

Open communication and feeling comfortable with your therapist are key. If you don’t feel completely comfortable with your therapist, try to find a therapist you can connect with and open up to more easily.

Look for a therapist who’s trained in CBT and who has experience treating your specific problem. Check to make sure they’re properly certified and licensed.

You may want to talk to your doctor or other healthcare providers for recommendations. Practitioners may include:

  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • psychiatric nurse practitioners
  • social workers
  • marriage and family therapists
  • other professionals with mental health training

Most of the time, CBT takes a few weeks to a few months to start seeing results.

What can CBT help with?

CBT can help with a variety of everyday problems, such as learning to cope with stressful situations or dealing with anxiety over a certain issue.

You don’t need a medical diagnosis to benefit from CBT.

It can also help with:

  • learning to manage powerful emotions like anger, fear, or sadness
  • dealing with grief
  • managing symptoms or preventing mental illness relapses
  • coping with physical health problems
  • conflict resolution
  • improving communication skills
  • assertiveness training

CBT can be effective for a variety of conditions, either alone or in combination with other therapies or medications. This includes:

Are there any risks?

CBT is not generally considered a risky therapy, though there are some things to keep in mind:

  • It’s a very individual thing, but in the beginning, some people might find it stressful or uncomfortable to confront their problems.
  • Some types of CBT, like exposure therapy, can increase stress and anxiety while you’re working your way through it.
  • It doesn’t work overnight. It takes commitment and willingness to work on new techniques between sessions and after therapy has ended. It’s helpful to think of CBT as a lifestyle change that you intend to follow and improve upon throughout your life.
The bottom line

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-established, effective type of short-term therapy. It’s based on the connections between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and how they can influence each other.

There are quite a few techniques that are used with CBT. Depending on the type of issue you want help with, your therapist will help figure out which CBT strategy is best suited to your particular needs.