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What does a Cognitive Behaviorist do?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cognitive behaviorist is a psychotherapist who uses cognitive and behavioral techniques to alter a patient's emotional and behavioral response to situations. Cognitive behavior therapy is based on the concept that how a person perceives a situation will influence that person's emotional response to the situation. A cognitive behaviorist attempts to make the patient aware of damaging thought processes and help him change his way of thinking. Altering the patient's patterns of thinking is fundamental to this type of therapy, which is used to treat a wide range of psychological issues.

Certified cognitive behaviorists have postgraduate training in a psychology-related field. Social workers, psychologists, doctors and other mental health professionals with the appropriate experience or qualifications can all become certified as cognitive behaviorists. Some psychologists use cognitive behavior therapy in their practice but are not necessarily certified in this particular area of psychology.

The main areas of psychology covered by this type of treatment are anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and psychotic disorders. The therapy also may be used for treating other disorders. A cognitive behaviorist does not use drugs as part of the therapy process, but patients who are taking medication for a condition can still participate in such therapy.

Cognitive behavior therapy sessions are generally held in a therapist's office or, occasionally, in a hospital setting. A typical day in the life of a cognitive behaviorist involves seeing several patients for sessions. These sessions can be private or involve a group of patients. The therapy regimen is generally short-term, lasting from 10 to 20 sessions. Sessions with a cognitive behaviorist are generally confidential, so a patient can share thoughts and feelings freely.

The first aspect of a session is to help the patient identify troubling situations in his life. The therapist then teaches him to understand all of his emotions, thoughts and beliefs about those situations. Once the patient can identify negative thought processes, he can begin to challenge those thoughts and attempt to replace them with beneficial thoughts. The beneficial thoughts are then used to lead the patient to positive behavioral changes.

The therapist can also give a patient homework to do after a session. The homework can be an activity or a reading assignment that ties in with what was covered in the session. The cognitive behaviorist also encourages the patient to apply what he has learned in the sessions to everyday life.

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