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What is cognitive behavior?

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Quick Answer

Cognitive behavior is the theory that behaviors and emotions are the result of negative patterns of thinking which have adapted over time. It is the basis of the counseling approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is typically used to treat certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Patients generally meet regularly with therapists who help them recognize and challenge irrational beliefs that are influencing their behaviors and feelings. Through guided discovery, the therapist helps the patient to step back from the situation to see it more clearly and therefore react to it in a more positive way.

CBT was founded by Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, in the 1960s. Using psychoanalysis on his patients, he discovered depression had specific traits that were not being addressed. One of these traits is what Beck called automatic thoughts. These thoughts randomly pop into a person's head, and they are often negative in nature. By learning to identify these thoughts, a patient could start to take a more realistic view of a situation.

CBT is short-term therapy, typically lasting between four and seven months. The ultimate goal is the patient becomes the therapist, learning to recognize and address these automatic thoughts on his own.

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