Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?


Within the fields of psychological intervention and Clinical Psychology there is a large number of proposals that are offered to many kinds of patients and problems. The offer is very varied, and it is easy to get lost in the jungle of labels, names and descriptions of the therapeutic approach.

However, one of these types of therapy receives special attention nowadays, both in consultations and clinics as well as in psychology faculties.

Modifying behaviors and thoughts

If you have ever stopped to think about the conventional idea of ​​what a “psychological problem” is, you may have realized that this type of problem has two faces.

On the one hand, a material and objective aspect, which is recognizable by many people and which can be measured from specific scales. On the other hand, a side that responds to subjective states of consciousness, that is, aspects of the mental and private life of the person who has the problem and that usually have a translation in emotional terms.

Los fundamentos de esta forma de intervención psicológica

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered to be born from the fusion of behavioral therapies and those derived from Cognitive Psychology.

On the one hand, behaviorism (and especially the radical behaviorism of B. F. Skinner) serves as an example of an exhaustive methodology that is very close to the precepts of the scientific method, which allows an objective assessment of the progress made during therapy.

On the other hand, Cognitive Therapy emphasizes the need not to renounce the consideration of directly unobservable mental processes, since a large part of the usefulness of a therapy lies in the subjective well-being of the patients and this factor does not have to be recorded through pure behavior analysis.

Delving into the differences with behaviorism

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is heir to certain foundations of Behavioral Psychology, such as the emphasis on practical learning processes and the idea that association is a central concept in therapy. However, it incorporates the need to act, in addition to behavior, on the person’s thoughts. Mainly, the intervention on the “mental” part focuses on cognitive schemes and conceptual categories from which the person interprets reality.

The non-adaptive beliefs are also explored, once these have been located, to train the client in their ability to locate day-to-day events that contradict these assumptions. Thus, if the person has self-esteem problems, he can be taught to pay attention to the admiration of his friends and family, which are a type of encouragement easily ignored when the self-image is badly damaged.

How do you intervene in this type of therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by teaching to recognize the thinking styles that predispose to reaching conclusions that are not very useful for the patient, or dysfunctional thoughts. For this, it is necessary to train the person to be able to reflect on their own way of thinking and consider which points are conflictive and which are not. In this way, it is intended that the client has more capacity to question the categories with which he works (such as “success and failure”) and to detect typical patterns of thought that cause problems.


Currently, cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered to be the only type of psychotherapy whose results have been validated through the scientific method. With this, it is understood that its efficacy is supported by empirical observations in which many groups of patients who have undergone treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have improved significantly more than would be expected if they had not attended therapy or had followed a placebo effect program.


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