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CT Myths: Three of the Most Common Misunderstandings about Cognitive Therapy

Myth: Cognitive Therapy (CT) is all about changing your thinking, and does not involve behavioral change.

Fact: Actually, Cognitive Therapy (developed by Aaron T. Beck, M.D. in the 1960s) addresses your thinking, emotions, behaviors, and physiological symptoms (if applicable). Cognitive Therapy (CT) is called Cognitive Therapy because it is based on the premise that your underlying beliefs about yourself, others and the world influence the way you perceive situations, and prompt you to have certain thoughts, emotions, behavioral responses and physical symptoms. CT treatment actually starts by addressing present problems and helping patients to have a better week — patients often begin evaluating their own thoughts and doing some behavioral experimentation very early on.

Myth: Cognitive Therapy only deals with surface layer problems, and it doesn’t do much to change the root of people’s problems.

Fact: Cognitive Therapy treatment starts by addressing present problems as a way to help patients gradually change their underlying problems. Cognitive Therapists work to understand patients’ ‘core beliefs’ — how they view themselves, others and the world. These beliefs are often formed in childhood and are deep-seated. And these beliefs pop up in every day situations in the form of anxious or depressed thoughts that lead to negative feelings and behavioral reactions to situations. Cognitive Therapists work with patients to analyze what’s happening in a given situation, come up with alternative responses, experiment with implementing new ways of thinking and acting, and gradually begin to change their responses to situations. When patients see how their reactions, mood and other symptoms can improve once they begin viewing situations in a more realistic light, they gradually begin to chip away at their ‘deep-seated’ core beliefs. In other words, Cognitive Therapists recognize that the best way to help patients alter their deep-seated beliefs and their current distress is to take action now, in the present, so that patients can see the effects of changing their thinking and behavior, and start to develop more positive and realistic outlooks after seeing the results in action their own lives.

Myth: All Cognitive Therapists do the same kind of therapy. So if I already tried a Cognitive Therapist and it didn’t help, that means that the treatment itself doesn’t help.

Fact: Not all therapists who call themselves Cognitive Therapists, or Cognitive Behavior Therapists are really trained and qualified to practice Cognitive Therapy (CT). As CT becomes more and more well known, due to the many studies that have shown it to be effective, more and more therapists are including CT ‘techniques’ in their practices, and some may call themselves Cognitive Therapists even if they do not have much training in Cognitive Therapy. Just because someone uses some part of CT in their practice, does not mean that he or she is actually delivering overall CT treatment (which is an integrative form of therapy that requires mastery of many different therapeutic techniques, and understanding of individualized treatment approaches for different disorders). We recommend that patients who are interested in CT treatment search for an ACT-Certified Cognitive Therapist. The Academy of Cognitive Therapy is the only Cognitive Therapist certifying organization that reviews therapists’ knowledge and ability before granting certification.