CBT and Anxiety Disorders

Page content

Changing Thoughts, Changing Lives

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an orientation of psychotherapy that is focused on how our thoughts affect our emotions and behaviors. CBT is one of the most effective and empirically supported therapies in the treatment of anxiety disorders, as well as being one of the most widely used. Therefore the link between CBT and anxiety disorders is ideally akin to a bridge between mental illness and mental wellness.

Theoretical Basis

CBT differs from other psychological orientations by focusing on the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapists believe that our dysfunctional thought patterns increase negative emotional states and cause our behaviors. CBT sees this as a reinforcement cycle, where one component (i.e. a thought, or an emotion) reinforces the other and that this escalates the unwanted pattern.

What To Expect During Your Sessions

CBT Therapy Techniques are a type of talk therapy, where you will be sitting in a private room with a licensed therapist and discussing your internal thoughts, emotions, and your behavioral patterns. CBT uses a systematic approach in its treatment style. This means that the therapist will ask you to fill out worksheets, such as Thought Records, which provide an empirically supported method in which to determine the negative thought-emotional-behavioral cycle you are experiencing. Therapy will focus on what has precipitated the anxiety, the specific thoughts that arise when anxious, the specific emotions that you are experiencing, and the behaviors you perform to deal with the anxiety.

The therapist will ask you what you fear most out of the anxious situation and how likely it is to happen. By systematically talking through each anxious encounter, therapy serves as a type of exposure to the anxiety. With time, your anxiety surrounding the anxious event will minimize as you gain more emotional control and understanding about it. The therapist will also work with you to discover more healthy behavioral patterns which can serve to make your fears less likely to happen.

Some anxieties may warrant environmental exposure therapy where the therapist slowly and systematically exposes you to the things which cause anxiety and fear. This process will involve you learning new coping methods for dealing with the anxieties and de-escalationg your emotional response through logical reflection. The therapist will start off with a minor fear and work your way up.

For example, if a person’s anxiety revolves around being trapped in an elevator, the therapist will first walk the patient in front of an elevator. The therapist will then work their way up, increasing the anxious situation by asking the patient to use their new coping strategies while inside an elevator for greater time periods. As the patient becomes more familiar with the experience, learns to effectively use their coping mechanisms, and can talk themselves logically out of the fear, they will have greater control over their emotional response and less anxiety.

In summary, in CBT you will be asked to confront your anxieties and fears in fine detail using talk therapy, systematic worksheets, and imagining in hypothetical situations.

How It Will Help

CBT will help you to stop avoiding feared and anxiety provoking situations which can be debilitating. The systematic approach is learned by the patient to empower them so that they will be able to tackle their fears on their own. During treatment, the patient will learn to change their thought patterns and in turn gain control over their emotional state and behave in the desired way they want. CBT is a very empowering method of managing and overcoming anxiety disorders.


National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists

University of Houston Department of Psychology