What to Expect During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It aims to help individuals identify and change negative or unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to psychological distress, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and insomnia.

If you’re considering or starting CBT, here’s what you can expect:

The Therapeutic Relationship

In CBT, the therapeutic relationship between you and your therapist is a crucial factor in the success of therapy. Your therapist will create a safe, non-judgmental, and collaborative environment where you can share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They will also help you set realistic and achievable goals for therapy.

Assessment and Formulation

At the beginning of therapy, your therapist will conduct an assessment and formulate a treatment plan based on your unique needs and symptoms. They may ask you about your current and past experiences, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. They may also use standardized questionnaires or scales to measure the severity of your symptoms.


One of the key components of CBT is psychoeducation, which means learning about the cognitive and behavioral processes that influence your mental health. Your therapist may explain the concepts of CBT, such as cognitive distortions, negative automatic thoughts, exposure therapy, and sleep hygiene. They may also provide you with reading materials or homework assignments to deepen your understanding of these concepts.

Behavioral Experiments

Another important aspect of CBT is behavioral experiments, which means testing out new behaviors or thoughts in real-life situations. Your therapist may help you design and carry out experiments that challenge your fears, avoidance, or negative self-talk. For example, if you have social anxiety, your therapist may ask you to attend a social event and notice your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the event.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a core technique in CBT that involves identifying and changing negative or inaccurate thoughts that contribute to distress. Your therapist may teach you how to identify common cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, or mind-reading. They may also help you develop alternative and more balanced thoughts that are based on evidence and logic.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a technique in CBT that involves gradually and safely confronting feared or avoided situations or stimuli. Your therapist may guide you through exposure exercises that involve imagining or facing the situations or stimuli that trigger your anxiety, PTSD, or phobia. They may also use virtual reality or other tools to simulate these situations.

Homework and Practice

To get the most out of CBT, you will need to practice the skills and techniques you learn in therapy outside of sessions. Your therapist may assign you homework, such as keeping a thought diary, practicing relaxation or mindfulness, or completing exposure exercises. They may also encourage you to apply these skills to your daily life and monitor your progress.

Duration and Frequency

The duration and frequency of CBT depend on your individual needs and goals. In general, CBT is a time-limited and structured therapy that lasts between 12 and 20 sessions. You may have weekly or biweekly sessions that last between 45 and 90 minutes. Your therapist may adjust the frequency and duration of therapy based on your progress and feedback.


CBT is an evidence-based and effective therapy for various mental health conditions. It can help you develop coping skills, change negative patterns of thinking and behavior, and improve your overall well-being.