Are There Different Types of CBT? Approaches for Psychotherapy

Medically reviewed by: Wendy Rasmussen, PhD
Wednesday, September 6 2023

Since being invented in the 1960s by famed psychiatrist Aaron Beck, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has become one of the most common therapy techniques that mental health professionals use to treat a broad range of mental health conditions and cognitive distortions.

Today, there are many forms of psychotherapy commonly used alongside CBT. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at how CBT works and six different types of therapeutic treatments that cognitive-behavioral therapists use.

Are there different types of CBT?

The simple answer to this question is no; there aren’t different forms of CBT. CBT refers to one specific therapeutic approach, and while this approach can be customized to fit the needs of individual people, it’s still the same type of therapy being used.

However, there are several treatment methods commonly used along with CBT. These CBT-compatible techniques give therapists additional tools and more flexibility during CBT therapy sessions. These other methods are typically what people are referring to when discussing types of cognitive behavioral therapy — however, it’s important to keep in mind that there are not different types of CBT.

What is the “third wave” of CBT?

CBT has gone through numerous distinct eras or “waves” over the years as therapists have continually fine-tuned and improved upon the approach. The arrival of the “third wave” of CBT was declared in 2004, and this is the era of CBT that we’re currently in.

Third-wave CBT emphasizes mindfulness, emotions, acceptance, relationships, values, goals, and thinking about your thoughts. Third-wave CBT is also defined by its tendency to include other approaches compatible with CBT, including acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and mindfulness‐based cognitive therapy.

Understanding cognitive behavioral therapy

CBT is a form of talk therapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By reframing negative emotions and irrational beliefs, CBT therapists help facilitate cognitive restructuring and positive behavior change.

CBT is an effective treatment for a wide range of mental illnesses and conditions, including:

How it works

CBT is designed to modify unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs contributing to a person’s emotional distress. This is done by identifying the negative thoughts and behavior patterns inhibiting mental wellness.

After identifying these unhelpful thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors, a therapist specializing in CBT will work to challenge and reframe them, replacing them with thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are more beneficial.

CBT is a short-term, time-limited approach, with treatment typically lasting a few weeks to a few months (depending on the person’s needs). However, CBT can often deliver long-term results, curbing maladaptive behaviors and improving a person’s quality of life.

Cognitive restructuring techniques

CBT therapists use several techniques to help people restructure how they think and process emotions. Common cognitive restructuring techniques used in CBT include:

  • Socratic method: This technique involves asking probing questions to help individuals explore and challenge unhelpful or irrational thoughts. By encouraging self-reflection, therapists using the Socratic method can guide people toward a more balanced and realistic perspective.
  • Identifying cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns contributing to emotional distress. By helping identify, label, and understand these distortions, therapists specializing in CBT can begin mitigating them.
  • Reality testing: With this technique, people are encouraged to test the validity of their unhelpful thoughts and beliefs against actual evidence or facts. This helps people learn to differentiate between thoughts grounded in reality and those based on assumptions or misperceptions.
  • Reframing thoughts: Reframing involves looking at a situation from a different angle or perspective. It helps individuals shift their focus away from the negative aspects of a situation and identify more positive or neutral interpretations.
  • Thought records or thought journals: Thought records or thought journals are tools used to document unhelpful thoughts and emotions and the situations that trigger them. Therapists then guide the person to analyze and challenge these thoughts, leading them to develop more adaptive thought patterns.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques encourage individuals to be present in the moment without fear of judgment. Practicing mindfulness helps people increase their awareness of their thoughts and emotions, allowing one to observe them without acting on them.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves gradually and safely exposing people to the situations or triggers that cause them emotional distress. This approach is most commonly used as a treatment option for phobias and anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety.

Benefits of CBT

There’s a reason why CBT has been one of the most popular psychotherapy techniques since its invention. It can be highly effective at treating a wide range of mental conditions and offers several considerable benefits, including:

Developing more beneficial thought patterns

The central premise of CBT is that a person’s thoughts play a significant role in shaping their emotions and behaviors. CBT gives you the skills you need to identify and eliminate negative or unhelpful thoughts that contribute to mental health conditions and other emotional struggles.

By helping you develop more adaptive thought patterns, CBT can potentially improve your outlook on life in numerous ways — and the right outlook can be a major factor in building a more positive life.

Focused and time-limited

CBT is typically designed to be time-limited and goal-oriented. This means CBT is meant to treat a specific condition or accomplish a specific mental health goal within shorter-term treatment (8-12 sessions).

This carefully structured, time-limited format makes CBT an excellent option for anyone seeking tangible results in a short time.

Adapted to individuals

Sometimes a CBT therapist will start with trying to change behaviors first to impact thoughts and emotions. For therapists who find it easier to work with behaviors first instead of thoughts, therapy can be personalized and adapted based on the unique needs of the individual in treatment.

After working with you to help identify your specific goals and challenges, a therapist will devise a personalized approach to meet your needs. The fact that CBT can be customized to address specific concerns while still adhering to its core principles ensures that the techniques and strategies employed are relevant and effective for each individual.

Building life skills and improving daily functioning

CBT aims to equip you with valuable life skills that extend beyond the therapy session. This includes coping skills for dealing with intense emotions, problem-solving skills for handling challenging situations, and a wide variety of other skills that may improve your daily functioning and quality of life.

From skills for improving your relationships to boosting your self-esteem, there are plenty of helpful tools and life skills you may learn while working with a therapist specializing in CBT.

Third-wave therapeutic approaches influenced by CBT

CBT has influenced many other therapeutic approaches in the years since its invention. Today, these third-wave therapeutic approaches incorporate elements of traditional CBT for more comprehensive treatment.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT was originally developed to treat people with borderline personality disorder, but it has since been proven effective at treating numerous other mental conditions as well. DBT combines standard CBT techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies, strongly emphasizing validating a person’s experiences while encouraging change.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT focuses on helping people develop psychological flexibility — the ability to be present, open, and engaged in the present moment while committing to behaviors that align with their goals and values. ACT encourages people to accept their thoughts and emotions rather than trying to control them.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

MBCT combines traditional CBT techniques with mindfulness practices. This includes breathing exercises, body scans, and mindfulness meditation. MBCT aims to help people become more aware of their thoughts and emotions while encouraging an accepting and non-judgmental perspective.

Metacognitive therapy (MCT)

MCT focuses on a person’s relationship with their thoughts. Rather than emphasizing the thoughts themselves, MCT centers on helping people understand how they think about their thoughts. MCT is designed to modify maladaptive thinking processes, such as rumination and worry, by encouraging people to develop more adaptive ways of relating to their cognitive processes.

Start your journey to mental wellness with SonderMind

CBT and the variety of therapeutic approaches it has given rise to can be highly effective at treating a long list of mental health issues. However, one of the biggest keys to benefiting from CBT is finding the right therapist.

At SonderMind, we help connect people with their ideal therapists using an innovative questionnaire designed to pinpoint your unique preferences and needs. To connect with an online or in-person therapist and begin your journey to mental wellness, try out SonderMind today.

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

Stay connected and supported with the latest tips and information from SonderMind.