Over 46 million Americans have experienced mental illness in a given year, yet nearly half of those who experience mental distress don’t seek professional help.

With the ever-present stigma on mental health, many who would benefit from therapy and counseling refuse to seek treatment for fear of judgment. However, for those who do seek professional aid, both short-term and long-term mental health can be greatly increased.

Therapy comes in many forms, based on the needs and projected end goals of every patient seeking professional guidance. When it comes to long-term effects, cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) is among the best forms of therapy. To best understand the ways in which CBT can aid therapy patients, it’s important to understand the process itself.

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy was created from the realization that a person’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are a circular connection. Each of these three functions are a cyclical pattern of cause and effect. One’s thoughts can affect their emotions, and in turn, change their behavior.

The approach used in CBT is rooted in identifying problems and triggers, and setting goals to best handle them. Unlike traditional therapy that digs into early life experiences, CBT focuses on present behavior and fine-tuning its connections to thoughts and emotions.

How does CBT work?

There are multiple forms of CBT, such as individual counseling, group therapy, and exposure and response prevention.

Considering the unique needs and goals of every patient, an initial consultation with a professional is often required to determine which method will be most beneficial. Finding a local therapist is as easy as performing an online search, i.e. “psychologist in Maryland”, and reading reviews from current and past patients.

Similarly, once a foundation of current stressors and triggers has been established, a unique set of goals will be formed to implement both during sessions and in day-to-day life.

Forms of CBT

For those who prefer a one-on-one environment, individual counseling provides focused, private aid. In order for therapy to be beneficial, patients should attend anywhere from 12 to 16 weekly sessions, each lasting 60 to 90 minutes.

During these sessions, past triggers will be evaluated, and both in-session and post-session exercises are created. For many patients, this comes in the form of journaling experiences of anxiety and finding the concrete reasons behind its effects on their thoughts and emotions. Seeing them written out on paper can help.

For those who feel most comfortable in a collective setting, many professionals offer group therapy. In these sessions, patients often partake in roleplay scenarios of recurring stressors. Whether it’s a group for OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, or generalized anxiety, this method of facing common triggers and finding new ways to approach them is often beneficial for long-term coping.

Equally as common in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy is exposure and response prevention, or ERP. In these scenarios, patients are encouraged to pin down the exact trigger that causes their emotional reactions, and refuse to indulge in them.

With the guidance and encouragement of a trained professional, they are encouraged to expose themselves to things that frequently result in unhealthy behaviors and thoughts in order to essentially become immune to them over time. During the response prevention segment of this practice, the patient learns to no longer engage in the subsequent negative behaviors.

While many may find seeking professional aid to be overwhelming, the short-term and long-term effects of counseling are immeasurable. The best start to finding this relief is by attending cognitive behavioral therapy. Facing fears, anxieties, and triggers, and finding healthy ways to reduce their effects, is a priceless tool for mental health.