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12 min read

Types of cognitive behavioral therapy

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: May 1, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

Table of contents

If you’re tired of a cycle of negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might just be the key to unlocking a more fulfilling, balanced life. This powerful approach isn’t about dismissing your feelings but understanding and reshaping them to work in your favor. 

In this article, we cover the different types of cognitive behavioral therapy and the range of mental health issues they can address. Whether you’re grappling with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or seeking tools for personal growth, cognitive behavioral therapy offers a structured yet flexible framework for understanding and reshaping your thought patterns. 

Get the mental health support you need from a licensed provider in as little as 24 hours.

Through Klarity, this journey is more accessible than ever and lets you bring personalized, evidence-based therapy into the comfort and privacy of your own space. With just a few clicks, you can connect with a licensed professional ready to guide you through cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Find a provider on Klarity today to learn how CBT may work for you.

Key forms of cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a versatile and powerful framework that offers tailored approaches for a wide array of psychological issues. Each type of CBT is uniquely designed to tackle specific challenges, providing you with the tools they need to understand their thoughts and behaviors and, ultimately, lead more fulfilling lives. 

Here’s a closer look at the key forms of CBT and how they address various mental health conditions:

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT is a helpful type of therapy for individuals battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It delves deep into the heart of traumatic memories, providing a safe space for individuals to unpack and reinterpret their experiences. 

In a typical CPT session, the therapist first checks in with the patient about their mood and thoughts since the last session. The patient is then guided through an exercise to identify automatic negative thoughts related to their trauma, such as self-blame, guilt, or believing the world is dangerous. The therapist helps the patient evaluate the evidence for and against these thoughts, with the goal of developing more balanced thinking.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention therapy is best suited for those who struggle with OCD. By gradually exposing individuals to their fears in a controlled environment, ERP challenges the compulsive behaviors typically used to alleviate anxiety. This exposure helps break the cycle of fear-response, teaching patients to confront their fears without resorting to compulsions, thereby diminishing the disorder’s hold on their lives.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy is a dynamic approach that marries traditional CBT techniques with the principles of mindfulness. It’s particularly effective for treating borderline personality disorder (BPD), focusing on improving emotional regulation and bolstering interpersonal relationships. Through a combination of group and individual therapy, DBT equips individuals with coping skills for managing intense emotions and navigating interpersonal conflicts, fostering a sense of balance and stability.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy targets the root of emotional distress: irrational beliefs. By identifying and challenging these beliefs, individuals learn to replace negative thought patterns with rational, balanced ones. This transformation is key to alleviating emotional turmoil and promoting mental well-being, making REBT a powerful tool for combating a range of emotional and behavioral issues.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a preventative method for those at risk of depression relapses. It integrates cognitive therapy with mindfulness practices, encouraging individuals to remain anchored in the present moment. This approach helps break the cycle of rumination and negative thought patterns associated with depression, offering a protective buffer against future episodes.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a forward-thinking form of CBT that incorporates acceptance and mindfulness strategies to help individuals lead a value-driven life. It’s about embracing life’s challenges without judgment and committing to actions that align with personal values. This emphasis on psychological flexibility allows individuals to navigate life’s ups and downs with grace and resilience.

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques

CBT encompasses a variety of techniques designed to help individuals alter detrimental thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their psychological distress. By integrating these techniques into therapy, CBT practitioners empower their clients to take active steps toward mental wellness. 

Here’s a look at some core CBT techniques.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a cornerstone of CBT, focused on identifying, challenging, and ultimately altering negative and maladaptive thought patterns. This technique encourages individuals to examine their thoughts critically, identify those that are irrational or unhelpful, and reframe them in a more positive or realistic light. The process often involves dissecting fears, doubts, and self-criticism to understand their basis and reshape them into thoughts that support well-being and personal growth.


Approximation, also known as “graded exposure” or “successive approximation,” is a CBT technique used to gradually expose individuals to anxiety-provoking situations or stimuli in small, manageable steps. This method is particularly effective for treating phobias, anxiety disorders, and situations where avoidance behavior is prominent. By breaking down the feared object or situation into less intimidating parts, individuals can slowly build confidence and tolerance, reducing overall anxiety and avoidance over time.

Meditation and journaling

Meditation and journaling are mindfulness practices that foster self-reflection and awareness. Meditation helps individuals center their thoughts and emotions in the present moment, reducing rumination and anxiety. 

Journaling offers a structured way to articulate thoughts and feelings, making it easier to identify patterns and triggers of distress. Together, these practices enhance emotional regulation and provide a foundation for more profound therapeutic work.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is designed to help individuals confront their fears in a gradual and controlled manner, reducing their sensitivity and avoidance behaviors over time. By facing feared objects, activities, or situations in a safe and therapeutic context, individuals learn that the anxiety or distress they experience is manageable and often lessens with repeated exposure. This technique is particularly effective for phobias, panic disorder, and PTSD.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that teaches individuals to relax their muscles through a two-step process: first, tensing, then relaxing each muscle group in the body. This practice helps individuals become more aware of physical sensations associated with stress and anxiety and offers a method to actively reduce tension. PMR can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with anxiety disorders, offering a physical strategy to accompany cognitive and behavioral interventions.

Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy

The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy is well-documented across numerous scientific studies, making it one of the most empirically supported treatments for mental health disorders. 

The benefits of CBT extend beyond the conclusion of therapy. Individuals who undergo CBT often experience long-lasting improvements, thanks to the emphasis on changing thought patterns and behaviors at a fundamental level. 

By teaching you how to identify and challenge negative thoughts independently, CBT provides you with tools for self-care that can prevent relapse and maintain mental health improvements over time.

Conditions that cognitive behavioral therapy treats

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) stands as a versatile and powerful tool in the mental health treatment arsenal, capable of addressing a wide range of psychological issues with its evidence-based approach. Here’s a deeper dive into the conditions CBT is proven to effectively treat:

  • Anxiety disorders: CBT is particularly effective for various forms of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. 
  • Depression: By fostering the development of more balanced and positive thought processes, CBT can significantly alleviate the symptoms of depression, empowering individuals to engage more fully in their lives.
  • OCD: CBT, particularly through the use of exposure and response prevention, is a cornerstone in the treatment of OCD. This approach involves exposing individuals to the thoughts, images, or situations that trigger their obsessions without engaging in the compulsive behaviors typically performed to reduce anxiety. 
  • Panic disorders: For those experiencing panic disorders, CBT offers strategies to understand and manage the physical symptoms of panic attacks as well as the fears associated with them.
  • PTSD: CBT, especially in the form of cognitive processing therapy, is highly effective in treating PTSD. It lets individuals process and make sense of their traumatic experiences, challenging and reframing unhealthy beliefs about the trauma and its impact. 
  • Eating disorders: CBT is the leading treatment for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. It addresses the distorted beliefs and attitudes about weight, body shape, and food that underlie these conditions. 

Benefits of CBT and how to get started

By delving into the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, CBT enhances self-awareness, fosters problem-solving skills, and boosts self-esteem. Its structured, goal-oriented nature makes it an efficient path to mental wellness, offering practical coping strategies that serve as tools for long-term health. The skills learned in CBT, applicable in real-world scenarios, are invaluable for navigating life’s challenges, making it a preferred choice for those seeking effective and sustainable mental health solutions.

Getting started with CBT is as simple as finding a qualified therapist who can tailor the therapy to your specific needs. Platforms like Klarity simplify this process, offering access to a wide range of CBT professionals and resources. Engaging in CBT involves commitment — participating in sessions, completing assignments, and applying strategies to daily life. 

Find a CBT professional on Klarity today

With our network of certified CBT professionals, Klarity is committed to connecting you to the highest quality providers who offer care tailored to your unique journey. Whether you’re battling anxiety, grappling with depression or OCD, or facing any of life’s myriad psychological challenges, Klarity’s platform is designed to connect you with the expertise and compassion you deserve. 

Find a CBT professional on Klarity today.


Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, “Cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a review,” Nilamadhab Kar, Apr. 4, 2011,

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