5 Conditions Helped By Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Treat Common Mental Illnesses

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

There are many conditions that can be helped by cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a kind of talk therapy, but unlike many other types of talk therapy, it does not focus on the past. Instead, it focuses on the present and what people can do to manage their thoughts and behaviors. With CBT, the focus is on identifying patterns and changing them.

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1. Depression

CBT usually works best when a person has mild or moderate depression although there are cases in which a person with severe depression can be successfully treated. A depressed person might be plagued by negative thoughts or feelings of inferiority. CBT would train the person to recognize when this is happening and replace those thoughts with something more positive. In some cases, CBT might be combined with antidepressants.

2. Bipolar Disorder

This is another condition that may be helped by CBT. Bipolar disorder may involve intense mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows. With CBT, one of the first things people might learn is how to recognize and track their moods. This information can help them identify the connection between mood and thought patterns and can help train people to adjust their thinking. CBT can also help train a person with bipolar disorder in problem-solving.


According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, CBT is the most effective treatment for PTSD. Treatment with CBT could involve thinking about the traumatic event and then working with a therapist to reframe the emotions around the event. If there is an activity or situation the person has avoided that is associated with the trauma, the person might gradually begin participating in the activity or situation again. CBT for PTSD might also help a person remember the event with greater accuracy.

4. Schizophrenia

Conditions helped by CBT include such serious mental illnesses as schizophrenia. The key for a therapist working with a person who has schizophrenia is teaching the person how to better manage the illness. Schizophrenia often involves dealing with confusing experiences or trying to determine the reality of situations, and CBT can help give a person a framework for doing that. A therapist might work with patients to reframe negative thoughts about themselves and their illness. CBT might also be used to help a patient work through an irrational belief with logic and eventually identify the irrationality of the thought.

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Because OCD is rooted in false beliefs and the behaviors that stem from those beliefs, it is a condition helped by cognitive behavioral therapy. As with PTSD, a kind of exposure therapy may be used when a person has OCD. This would involve putting the person in a situation that triggered the OCD behavior without giving in to the behaviors that are normally used to ease the person’s distress. The process is patient-led, meaning that the therapist does not push the person into anything the person is not ready for. Some people might start by simply imagining themselves in the situation that provokes anxiety and distress.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be a powerful tool because it gives people the ability to manage their own thoughts and emotion. Although sometimes used in conjunction with medication, CBT itself has no side effects, and so it may be attractive to people concerned about side effects. People who become therapists may find themselves working with people who have these and other conditions helped by CBT.