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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy.

  • CBT helps kids and teens look at their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • CBT can be helpful for kids with anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues.

Many kids who learn and think differently also have mental health issues. And for some, just coping with learning challenges can cause a lot of stress or make them feel bad about themselves.

There are a bunch of treatments that can help kids cope with mental health issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of them. Learn more about CBT.

What Is CBT?

CBT is a form of talk therapy that can be used with kids, teens, and adults. Its goals are to:

  • Get people to look at their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • Show them how to replace negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones.

  • Help them change behaviors that cause challenges in everyday life.

Here’s an example. Your child says, “I’m stupid and I can’t learn. I’m not reading any more books for school.”

CBT can help kids challenge that thought and replace it with, “I’m good at lots of things. My reading problems can make learning harder, but I’m just as smart as other kids. And there are tools I can use to make reading easier.”

With CBT, the therapist and child work together to set goals, identify problems, and check progress. Kids may get assignments to do between sessions to build the skills they’re learning.

CBT focuses on the present and the future. It helps kids realize they have control over their behaviors.

How CBT Works

With CBT, kids meet with a therapist who may be a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. They can meet individually, in a group with other kids, or with family members. The therapist first meets with the parents and their child to find out what they hope to achieve. That could be anything from stopping being bullied at school to feeling more confident.

There are a number of techniques therapists use in CBT. One is called modeling. In this approach, the therapist demonstrates the desired behavior, like standing up to a bully.

Another technique is called cognitive restructuring. This is an approach where kids learn to recognize and replace negative thoughts. For instance, they might turn “I stink at math” into “Some parts of math are hard for me. But there are many others I can do.”

CBT is shorter term than some other kinds of therapy. The number of sessions adults or kids attend is usually between 10 and 20. But each person is different, and the number of recommended sessions can vary.

There are certain steps involved in CBT. They include:

  • Identifying things in your life that are upsetting to you.

  • Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings about them.

  • Recognizing thinking that’s negative or not accurate.

  • Reshaping that thinking into a more positive view.

Who CBT Can Help

CBT is used to treat people with a range of mental health conditions. These include:

Kids don’t need to have a disorder to benefit from CBT, however. This type of therapy can also help with chronic stress, fear, low self-esteem and other emotional struggles. CBT teaches kids how to manage their emotions and put things in perspective.

For CBT to work, kids need to understand their thought patterns. Some will be able to do that when they’re 6 or 7. Others won’t have that ability until they’re older.

Where to Find CBT

Many therapists specialize in CBT. But it’s a good idea to find one who works with kids. Your child’s doctor may be able to refer you to one. The doctor may even know therapists who specialize in kids with learning and thinking differences.

You can also check with friends and family who have been in therapy, or with local associations of psychologists or social workers. Another option is to search online at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. You might also get ideas from parents in the  Understood Community about how to find a therapist.

The sooner you know your child is struggling emotionally, the sooner you can get help.

Be aware of the signs of anxiety and depression in kids. Learn about the connections between ADHD and anxiety and slow processing speed and anxiety. And discover a form of CBT called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 

Key Takeaways

  • CBT can help kids learn to replace negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones.

  • It can benefit kids who struggle with chronic stress, fear, and low self-esteem.

  • Try to find a CBT therapist who has experience working with kids and teens.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom