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How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Help With Conduct Disorder Symptoms?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/5/2010

If you know someone with a conduct disorder, you may wonder whether cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help. Luckily, the success of CBT with conduct disorder symptoms makes it a promising therapy choice.

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    What is CBT?

    In order to understand the reasoning behind using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with conduct disorder issues, it is important to know what CBT and conduct disorders are. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that combines cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. In layman's terms, it is based on the belief that your thoughts are what most influence your behaviors, and that you can control your thoughts. Those who undergo CBT may be asked to rethink several of their assumptions and beliefs, face situations that they would normally try to avoid, and practice new reactions to these situations. CBT works more quickly than many other therapies, and it can help with several emotional issues, such as OCD, mood disorders, and conduct disorders.

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    Is CBT Helpful for Conduct Disorders?

    Conduct disorder is the most common childhood diagnosis, and it is one that is easily understood. After all, all people get angry sometimes, especially children. People with a conduct disorder, however, take this anger and frustration to a new level. For example, people with a conduct disorder are verbally and physically aggressive, are cruel and destructive towards people and animals, and commit dishonest acts such as lying, vandalism, and stealing.

    A meta-analysis of 27 studies of the effect of CBT on disruptive behavior was published in 2004 at the University of California. It found that CBT is helpful when treating disruptive childhood behaviors in general, but even more interestingly, using CBT with conduct disorder children is even more effective. Children in the study who had been diagnosed with conduct disorder had even greater success with CBT than children who had been diagnosed with other disorders. Research also shows that the best way to treat conduct disorder is with a multi-modal approach that includes teachers, parents, and other caregivers. When they all focus on using CBT with conduct disorder symptoms, the child will respond to the treatment most effectively.

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    How Does CBT Help Children With Conduct Disorders?

    When a child with a conduct disorder receives CBT from a therapist, they are forced to face their misperceptions about the world and reexamine them. For example, if a person waves and says "hi" to a child with conduct disorder, the child may feel threatened and react accordingly. CBT helps the child examine these feelings and identify the true intentions of the person waving. This would include discussing the differences between an angry and a nice tone of voice, different facial expressions, and different spoken phrases. The CBT therapist would then introduce the child to new ways of reacting to the same situation, equipping them with social skills that can help in the future. During CBT, the child with a conduct disorder may even be given homework to practice these skills in real-life situations.

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Uses of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a combination of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. It focuses on the fact that your thoughts control your behavior, and that you can control your thoughts. This series contains articles about how CBT can help treat several different disorders.
  1. How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Help With Conduct Disorder Symptoms?
  2. How is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Used for Dependent Personality Disorder?