Therapy FAQ

Your Guide to Finding a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

Embarking on therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), requires courage and information. Discover how CBT empowers individuals to overcome psychological barriers and find therapists suited to your needs with Grow Therapy’s comprehensive guide.

isbell oliva garcia grow therapy By Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Updated on Jun 10, 2024

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The “gold standard” of therapeutic models — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — shows that thoughts and emotions do not enslave humans but have the potential to evolve beyond the mind’s limitations. This process requires patience, effort, and consistency. Fortunately, CBT provides tools to teach you how to make changes in a structured way under the skilled guidance of a therapist.

Making the leap to start therapy takes courage, but the right information can empower you to make informed choices. So if you’re on the fence about finding a cognitive behavioral therapist or want to know how to find one near you, this article has you covered. Learn what CBT helps with, why it’s so effective, and how to find a CBT therapist for your needs.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

It’s natural to want to know what approach is most worth investing time and money. While therapy’s effectiveness comprises complex factors, cognitive behavioral therapy has a proven efficacy for a wide range of issues. Since its inception, CBT has become the most widely researched talking therapy, so it’s a relatively safe bet.

The Three Aspects of Cognition

Cognitive behavioral therapy utilizes a human’s unique ability to self-reflect. Its approach is grounded in metacognition, or, in other terms, thinking about thinking. CBT’s core principles suggest psychological problems are caused by distorted thinking, which influences emotions and behavior. In particular, CBT works with three aspects of cognition: automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions, and underlying beliefs.

Most of us have rapid-fire thoughts that seem outside of our control. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the understanding that certain thought patterns contribute to psychological disorders, and noticing them is the first part of the process. In addition to noticing, CBT systematically identifies distortions and how to reframe them. For example, catastrophizing is a common cause of anxiety, where automatic thoughts jump to worst-case scenarios.

Using the solar system metaphor, automatic thoughts orbit underlying beliefs about the nature of reality. Regular catastrophizing may orbit an underlying belief that the world isn’t safe. Beliefs are the filter through which we view the world; fortunately, that filter can be changed.

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Naturally, each modality has pros and cons, but understanding the different types of CBT may support you to refine your search for a therapist. These variations include:

While many therapists will specialize in different types of CBT, the underlying principles remain the same. Rather than trying to determine which modality best suits you before taking the next steps, ask potential therapists about their specific approach. How they respond can be a valuable part of the vetting process and will provide insight into their working methods.

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How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help?

In 2012, a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies explored the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy. Results demonstrated CBT to be most effective in treating anxiety disorders, psychosomatic illness, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, and stress. It also had positive results for depression, insomnia, addiction, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia (for “positive symptoms” such as delusions and hallucinations).

Cognitive behavioral therapy also shows promising results for tackling mental illness compared to medication. For example, studies have shown CBT to be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression, with longer-lasting results. Each case is unique, though, and finding the right treatment plan is best formulated in discussion with a therapist or mental health professional.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as Self-Help

Because of its structure, cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful self-help practice for those who can’t access a therapist. Internet-based cognitive therapy (ICBT) — online programs teaching people CBT tools — effectively treats mental health issues, such as anxiety, panic disorder, phobia, bipolar disorder, and OCD. In addition to clinical benefits, CBT techniques support self-development in daily life, from relationship issues to stress management.

That isn’t necessarily cause to avoid seeking a therapist, though. “Self-help is great, but there is a lot of misleading information out there that is hard to sort through,” says Kristina Anzell, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. “Working with a professional, you will be able to get evidenced-based treatments tailored specifically to you, so make sure you ask your therapist about their specialty to make sure it aligns with what you need support with.”

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

Before showing you how to find a therapist to suit your needs, let’s briefly explore specific techniques. What tools you apply, and when, will be decided with your therapist. However, you may be introduced to three common techniques: cognitive restructuring, exposure, and goal setting.

Cognitive Restructuring

Awareness of cognitive distortions and negative thought patterns is the first step. Part of cognitive behavioral therapy is reframing thoughts in a process-driven way. Think of it like telling yourself a different story. Our minds don’t always discern between fact and fiction, so the quality of the stories you tell yourself makes a difference in how you feel. There are typically five steps to cognitive restructuring:

  1. The situation: Note a situation or event causing upset.
  2. The feeling: Identify the strongest or most upsetting feeling, usually sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, or anger.
  3. The thought: Note what thoughts were present. This isn’t always straightforward, but a therapist can support you to uncover unconscious patterns or beliefs.
  4. The evaluation: Consider the evidence for and against the validity of the thought, such as considering alternatives or how someone else might respond.
  5. The decision: Explore whether the initial upset was warranted. This can illuminate where distortions are present. Occasionally difficult feelings or thoughts are valid, and in that case, additional steps must be taken to address the issue.

Not all CBT is retrospective. Practicing cognitive restructuring by looking back on past events trains your mind, which will change your habitual thinking patterns over time. You’ll start to notice when beliefs and automatic thoughts work against you and automatically move towards more supportive and skillful ways of interpreting events.

Exposure-Based Techniques

Exposure techniques confront feared situations head-on and are commonly used in CBT. The title of Dr. Susan Jeffers’ popular self-help book from the late 1980s, “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,” sums up exposure. “Every time you encounter something that forces you to ‘handle it,’” Jeffers writes, “your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way, your fears are diminished immeasurably.”

Anzell agrees, noting that exposure-based techniques in CBT are particularly useful for mental health conditions such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “They help navigate the avoidance you are engaging in so that you can move through the discomfort rather than getting stuck by it,” she says. That, in turn, changes behavior, raises self-esteem, and leads to empowered decisions in the future.

Goal-Setting

CBT also builds self-esteem by setting clear goals for treatment. “Goal-setting is useful with increasing motivation,” says Michelle Coleman, a licensed professional clinical counselor with Grow Therapy. “Setting realistic goals helps you envision a path to your desired outcome and often results in seeing actionable steps.” With the therapist on-hand to keep you on track, this forward momentum makes progress tangible.

What to Consider When Seeking a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

Once you decide to pursue cognitive behavioral therapy, the next step is finding an appropriate therapist. To support you, consider what qualities to look out for, what questions to ask, what you can expect once you begin sessions, and the best way to search for a therapist.

What to Look For in a Therapist

Anzell recommends finding someone who specializes in the issues you’re experiencing. “Look for someone who is a good fit for your personality, someone you feel comfortable talking to,” she suggests. Coleman adds that while being a non-judgemental listener is a great quality for any therapist, “CBT therapists have to be good teachers, too, as the goal is to teach individuals strategies to evaluate their thinking and manage problematic behaviors.”

You might want to consider whether you’d prefer therapy online or in person. “Online can be more or less intimate than in-person for some,” Anzell notes. “But consider being in a different location for therapy so that you are not bringing the heaviness of sessions into your home.”

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

You should never feel pressured into making a decision. Ideally, you can ask questions to clarify what to expect and whether the therapist is right for you. Specific questions to ask a potential therapist include:

Remember Anzell’s advice when asking questions — how you feel when asking a potential therapist questions is just as, if not more, important than how impressive their answers are.

What to Expect in a Session

Once you’ve chosen a therapist, you’ll book your first session. It’s understandable to feel nervous. Being vulnerable and sharing is a courageous act, but therapists are trained to treat your vulnerabilities with respect and integrity. In your first session, you’ll likely provide an overview of your mental health background and the bigger picture of your problems.

“CBT sessions are usually structured but are not rigid,” Coleman notes. “After the assessment, there is a brief update in connection to the previous session, such as the discussion of action plans. The focus of the session itself will be the use of cognitive behavioral interventions.” Sessions typically end with a brief summary and the assignment of homework.

Clients must be prepared to put in effort in their own time, though. “This is true for any therapy, because change is hard, but the expectation when engaging in CBT is that you are willing to complete homework assignments between sessions,” Anzell says.

Finding a CBT Therapist Near

While there’s no such thing as failure when starting therapy — acknowledging you need help and asking for support is a huge success — preparation gives you the confidence to make choices that will benefit you the most, giving your healing journey purpose and direction. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful way to enact change, with tools to ensure your journey makes tangible progress.

Grow Therapy’s search tool takes the stress out of the search and does the hard work for you, providing you a list of therapists in your location who suit your needs and insurance requirements. Our directory gives you an overview of the therapist’s approach, expertise, main areas of focus, hourly rate, and whether they offer sessions in-person or online, making it the ideal platform to connect within your comfort zone.

FAQs

  • Tools are provided to challenge habitual thinking patterns and behaviors in the here and now. There’s less focus on a client’s past and more structure than other modalities.

  • In 2017, the median cost of therapy in the United States was $120 for a 50-60 minute session, although rates vary by state and depend on insurance coverage.

  • The length of treatment can be anywhere from four sessions to a year or two, depending on your reason for seeking treatment and the amount of work put in between sessions.

  • Some critics of CBT have accused it of being overly mechanical, neglecting to see the patient as a universal whole. However, many concerns about traditional CBT have been addressed in “third-wave” approaches, such as ACT, which integrates mindfulness, values, and acceptance.

About the author
isbell oliva garcia grow therapy Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Isbell Oliva-Garcia is a licensed mental health counselor, bilingual in English and Spanish. Isbell specializes in women's issues during difficult times of transition and also works with front-line individuals struggling with PTSD or stressors created by the job.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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