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Traditional Psychotherapy vs Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

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By Ollie C

Published: November 14, 2020


There are many different therapy and treatment options out there, so when you start working for the best route for you, it can be overwhelming to try to make that choice.

Two of the most popular and effective forms of therapy are psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. However, even within those two options, it can be hard to figure out which one is the best option for you.

Therapy is a very individualised experience, so it is important to understand the specifics of each form including the benefits of each.

Below you will find these two forms of therapy defined and explained. You will find explanations of both their similarities and their differences, as well as the pros and cons of each option.

This will help you figure out which option is the best option for you, so you can start the treatment plan that will be most successful.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is actually a rather wide field as it consists of a number of other, more specific forms of therapy. In fact, even cognitive behavioural therapy is considered a type of psychotherapy.

The reason we have still split the two apart is that cognitive-behavioural therapy is a big subfield that can be divided into several more subfields.

Psychotherapy is essentially talking therapy and can be used to treat a very wide range of mental disorders and other emotional problems.

The goal in psychotherapy is to help a person heal from emotional and psychological damage, function better in day to day life, and minimise (or totally eliminate) adverse behaviour.

These goals are met by meeting with a therapist for multiple sessions over an extended period of time. Usually, these sessions occur once a week, though that depends a lot on the person.

Additionally, some people may only need to go to a handful of sessions to work through one specific emotional issue, but other people may need to attend sessions for months or even years to work through more complex and longer-lasting issues.

As stated previously, there are many different disorders and problems that can be treated by psychotherapy, including, but not limited to, addiction, childhood trauma, adult trauma, phobias, social anxiety, grief, death of a loved one, sleeping disorders such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

When someone goes through psychotherapy, their therapist might use a variety of different tools and techniques to help them, and it is not a one-size-fits-all plan.

While a therapist might use one technique for a patient with a substance abuse disorder, he or she might use an entirely different technique with a person who has social anxiety.

It is also important to find a therapist with who you work well. Not everyone is going to get along with every therapist, but finding one that you trust is key in it being successful. It is okay to have to try a few different therapists out before you stick with one.

Types of Psychotherapy

As stated above, there are a number of different subfields of psychotherapy that your therapist may use. Which one you need depends on your individualised situation and your therapist’s professional preferences.

Below is a breakdown of some of the more common and successful forms of psychotherapy that you may find yourself doing.

1. Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy is just what it sounds like. It is focused on interpersonal relationships and skills, so during a session, the individual will work with their therapist to fix or improve broken relationships and learn better relational skills.

During a session, a therapist will guide an individual through assessing their interactions with other people. While working through different situations, the therapist will help the individual decide what patterns and behavioural choices were negative and which were positive.

Afterwards, they will work together to come with new strategies and methods to replace negative choices and patterns with more positive ones.

2. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or DBT is a form of psychotherapy that has been developed over time. Originally, it was only used to treat patients with borderline personality disorder who dealt with suicidal patterns.

Now, it is used to treat a variety of different mental illnesses, though it is still primarily used to help those diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.

3. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is otherwise known as EMDR and is a form of psychotherapy used to treat disorders like PTSD as it has been proven to help reduce anxiety and emotional distress that exists due to previous trauma.

4. Mentalisation-Based Therapy

MBT or mentalisation-based therapy is another form of psychotherapy that is commonly used to treat those with a borderline personality disorder, and it has been proven to lead to long term success.

When someone partakes in MBT, they engage in what is called mentalising. Mentalising allows people to separate their initial thoughts and feelings from the people around them and the events taking place.

5. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a form of therapy based on a number of different theories and psychoanalytic principles. These theories highlight self-actualisation and deep insight into emotional conflicts.

A psychodynamic therapist will help a person create this insight and find their own self-actualisation.

6. Supportive Psychotherapy

Supportive psychotherapy is designed to help a person lessen or eliminate any unfavourable mental symptoms while at the same time, boosting self-esteem and social skills. During a session, a patient can expect to examine their social patterns and emotional responses.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is a relatively new form of psychotherapy. It is not typically suited for long term therapy and cannot usually be used to deal with deeper emotional issues or cope with emotional trauma.

It has been proven effective in helping patients cope with a long list of various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other severe mental conditions.

If you choose to do CBT, you can expect that it will be more short-term therapy as there are usually a set number of sessions when you begin.

As the name implies, CBT combines techniques from and is based on theories from both cognitive therapy and behavioural therapy. While completing CBT sessions, an individual should expect to examine the relationship between their thoughts, fears, and feelings and their behaviour, patterns, and physical responses.

While CBT is a relatively new treatment, it has been built around lots of scientific research and clinical practice and is backed by a lot of evidence where the techniques led to quantifiable changes in patient’s lives.

There are many studies that have proven CBT to be equally or even more effective than other forms of psychotherapy and even medication.

CBT Principles

There are several core principles that CBT is based on. The three main principles are that psychological problems are based, at least in part, on unuseful thinking, that those who deal with psychological problems have the ability to develop new coping tools which will relieve symptoms and improve their quality of life, and that changing your thinking patterns is a key step in coping with a variety of mental health issues.

These core principles have led to the development of several different common practices that you will come across, no matter what form of CBT you partake in.

These practices include:

  • Learning to recognise distorted thinking and then re-evaluate logically
  • Developing a better understanding of other people’s behaviour
  • Learning how to use problem-solving skills to cope in various difficult scenarios
  • Developing a sense of confidence
  • Learning how to calm both the mind and body
  • Learning how to face fears rather than avoid them

Types of CBT

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be further divided into three different categories. Depending on the therapist you choose and your individual situation, you may end up partaking in all three of them or just one.

1. Exposure Therapy

If you are dealing with a phobia or phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), exposure therapy may be a good option for you.

During a session of exposure therapy, a therapist will first help a patient figure out what their triggers are and then help them develop coping mechanisms to deal with exposure to said triggers.

After triggers are identified, and coping mechanisms are discussed, the therapist will start exposing the patient to the triggers in a controlled environment to help them learn how to confront them and practice the new coping mechanisms.

2. Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and response prevention or ERP is a form of exposure therapy and CBT. During these sessions, a therapist will still help a person confront their fears in a controlled environment, but then they focus on resisting the compulsions to escape.

This type of CBT is commonly used with patients who deal with symptoms of OCD.

3. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR is also known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. This session uses mindfulness techniques that are proven to be successful.

With time and consistent practise, these different techniques can help a person develop certain behavioural outcomes.



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By Ollie C

Ollie started writing for Rehab 4 Addiction over five years ago. Ollie has been in recovery for more than twenty years. Ollie contributes to a range of 12-step and non-step support groups both in London and across the United Kingdom.