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  • Conal Jacob Harpur

How Does CBT Work for Anxiety?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help individuals identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to their anxiety. It is a widely accepted and evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.


CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected and that changing one aspect can have a positive impact on the others. For example, if an individual has negative thoughts about social situations (such as "I'm going to embarrass myself"), they may feel anxious and avoid social interactions. This avoidance reinforces the negative thought, creating a cycle of anxiety and avoidance. CBT aims to break this cycle by helping individuals identify and challenge their negative thoughts and gradually expose themselves to the situations they fear.

CBT typically involves weekly sessions with a trained therapist, who will work with the individual to set specific goals and develop strategies to achieve them. These strategies may include:

  • Identifying and challenging negative thoughts: This involves becoming aware of negative thoughts as they arise and questioning their validity. The therapist may ask the individual to generate evidence for and against their negative thoughts and to consider alternative, more realistic perspectives.

  • Gradual exposure to feared situations: For individuals with phobias or specific fears (such as fear of flying or public speaking), the therapist may work with the individual to create a hierarchy of feared situations and gradually expose them to these situations in a safe and controlled way. This helps individuals learn that their feared situations are not as threatening as they thought and that they can cope with them.

  • Relaxation techniques: The therapist may teach the individual relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to help reduce anxiety in the moment.

  • Problem-solving skills: Anxiety can often be triggered by problems or challenges in life. The therapist may work with the individual to identify and solve problems in a systematic and efficient way, helping to reduce anxiety in the long term.

CBT is a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders, with research showing that it can lead to significant reductions in anxiety symptoms. It is often considered the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, and many people find relief from their symptoms after just a few months of treatment.


One of the benefits of CBT is that it is a relatively short-term treatment, with most people seeing significant improvements in their symptoms within 12 to 20 sessions. It is also a highly practical treatment, with individuals learning skills that they can use to manage their anxiety long after treatment has ended.


CBT is not a one-size-fits-all treatment, and the specific strategies and techniques used will depend on the individual's specific anxiety symptoms and goals. It is important to work with a trained and qualified therapist who can tailor the treatment to the individual's needs.


While CBT is a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders, it is not always easy. It requires effort and commitment from the individual, and it can be challenging to confront and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. However, the skills and strategies learned in CBT can have a lasting impact and can help individuals lead a happier, more fulfilling life.


In conclusion, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders. It helps individuals identify and challenge negative patterns of thinking and behavior and gradually expose themselves to feared situations. It is a short-term, practical treatment that can lead to significant improvements in anxiety symptoms and can equip individuals with the skills to manage their anxiety long after treatment has ended. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, consider seeking out a trained and qualified CBT therapist.


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