Psychotherapy vs CBT: Which Is Better For You?

By Jaylin Rodriguez

You probably clicked on this blog to learn the difference between psychotherapy vs CBT.

Therapy is a pretty well known term. Some people think therapy is just talk therapy. However, there are multiple types of therapy and approaches. Each approach has similarities and differences, and some work better than others for certain clients and situations.

psychotherapy vs cbt

Finding the right kind of therapy for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. Googling therapy can bring up a lot of different answers. How do you know what’s right for you? 

Let’s make it a little easier. 

In this blog, we’ll take a deeper look into two types of  therapeutic approaches: Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

What is Psychotherapy? 

Psychotherapy is an umbrella term for treating psychological disorders and typically involves talk therapy. Psychotherapy can be used short-term or long-term and can treat various mental health issues including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance use, stress, and more.

The goals of psychotherapy are dependent on each person. Typically, they are to learn about oneself and to help a person identify and change unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. 

All psychotherapy sessions involve developing a therapeutic relationship, dialogue, and working to overcome challenges and obstacles in a person’s life. 

Psychotherapy can take on different formats depending on the experience and expertise of the therapist and the needs of the patient. Types of psychotherapy include:

  • Group Psychotherapy
  • Couples Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Individual Therapy 

Psychotherapy sessions usually last 50-60 minutes and are used to treat a variety of conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Substance Use
  • Bipolar Disorder

Underneath Psychotherapy are various types of specialized techniques, or treatment modalities. These modalities include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy 
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Mindfulness
  • Solutions Focused Therapy
  • Existential Therapy
  • …and much more!

The type of technique a therapist uses will depend on their educational background, special training, experience, and their client’s needs. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral model for psychotherapy vs cbt

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that helps clients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behavior. 

CBT is typically used for short-term therapy, usually around 10-12 sessions. CBT helps people recognize distorted thinking patterns and learn to cope with difficult situations. Through CBT, clients can learn to build confidence to feel secure in challenging circumstances. 

We all have automatic thoughts and patterns of behaving. CBT works to challenge your thoughts in order to cope with difficulties in a healthy manner. It is essentially changing the way you think and respond in order to create new, healthier patterns. We call this thought  restructuring.

Here is how the process works:

Something happens → you have a thought about what just happened → you experience an emotion based on that thought → you respond to that thought and emotion with a behavior. 

The goal of CBT is to alter that initial automatic thought which then changes the following emotion and behavior. 

An example of challenging your thoughts is as follows:

A coworker walked past me in the office without saying hi. My first automatic thought is “Are they mad at me? What did I do wrong?”. In a CBT setting, I would take that automatic thought and challenge it. An alternate thought can be “They didn’t even see me” or “They must have a lot on their mind”. 

Every thought we have leads to a certain feeling which then leads to a behavior.  

Overall, CBT is used to change thinking patterns and behavior. It usually involves “homework”, or work out of session. This may include a thought log which is exactly like what it sounds: logging your thoughts. 

This helps you see what kind of thoughts you have in specific situations and what behaviors come from those thoughts.

Goals of CBT can include:

  • Identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs: CBT helps you recognize and question their negative thoughts and beliefs, which may be contributing to their mental health problems. By learning to challenge these thoughts and beliefs, individuals can develop a more balanced and realistic perspective.
  • Learn new coping skills: CBT teaches you new coping skills and strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being. This may include relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, and assertiveness training.
  • Develop a plan for relapse prevention: CBT helps develop a plan for preventing relapse and maintaining their progress over time. This may include developing a support system, practicing self-care, and identifying triggers that may lead to a relapse.
  • Improve communication and relationships: CBT can also help you improve their communication skills and relationships with others. By learning to express themselves more effectively and assertively, you can improve their social support and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Face new challenges and fears: CBT can help you develop problem-solving skills that can be applied to new challenges. By learning to break down problems into smaller, more manageable components, you can develop a clearer understanding of how to tackle new challenges.
  • Improve self-efficacy: CBT can also help improve your sense of self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. By setting realistic goals and developing a plan to achieve them, you can build confidence and motivation.

Overall, the goal of CBT is to help individuals develop the skills and strategies they need to overcome their mental health problems and lead a more fulfilling life.

CBT is most commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, however, it can be adapted to treat almost any mental health condition. 

CBT is one of the most common and evidence-based therapeutic approaches used by many therapists. 

Which is better for you?

psychotherapy vs cbt

There is no one size fits all approach to therapy. Therapy is personalized and focused on the clients needs. 

Talking with your therapist is the first step to discovering which approach works best for you. You can work with your therapist to create a treatment plan. 

A treatment plan is a detailed plan with information about the client’s concerns, the goal of treatment, the treatment options, and the expected length of treatment.

CBT is a specialized type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thinking patterns which then change behavior. 

Psychotherapy is a broad term used to describe sessions in which you talk things through with your therapist to identify unhealthy patterns. 

Which sounds like a better fit for you?

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