What to Expect in CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) differs from other forms of therapy in some very significant ways. If you’re deciding whether CBT may be right for you, you may find it helpful to have an idea of what you might expect in a typical course of treatment in CBT.

The First Session

The purpose of the first session is mainly assessment. It is a chance for you to explain what it is you’ve been having difficulty with, or what you’d like to use therapy to work on. It is likely that your therapist will ask a lot of questions about different areas of your life to get a full picture of key factors that may be involved in your treatment. Based on the assessment, your therapist will be able to determine if he/she is the right fit for you, and if not, will provide you with the best referral. Sometimes at the end of the first session your therapist will be able to discuss a potential treatment plan, outlining the sorts of interventions that will likely be used in your therapy. Other times, an additional assessment session is needed to create a more complete treatment plan. After discussing the recommended treatment plan with your therapist, you will have a better idea whether this particular treatment is right for you.

Subsequent Sessions

After the assessment session, treatment can begin. This is when you begin working on the problems you came to treatment for. CBT is more active than other forms of therapy, and much of the time is dedicated to learning and practicing skills. Every session is spent working on solving problems, unlike traditional talk therapy, where much of the time is spent merely talking about them.

Each session of CBT follows the same structure to ensure the most effective use of time. The session begins with a brief check-in, followed by a review of the previous session and homework. After this, the therapist and client set the agenda for the session, and the rest of the session is spent targeting agenda items.

Research shows that therapy is significantly more effective, and that people improve much faster, when homework is a component of treatment. Every session homework is assigned to help people master the skills they came to therapy for. In the beginning of treatment, homework often involves tracking changes in mood, or tracking certain behaviors over the course of the week. Later on, it can involve identifying and correcting problematic thinking patterns, or practicing a behavior that was learned in therapy, such as being assertive with a co-worker.  Learn more about what CBT is.

Final Sessions

Once you’ve achieved your therapy goals, it’s time to begin reducing the frequency of therapy sessions. Traditional talk therapy often requires people be in therapy for years at a time. CBT on the other hand, usually lasts just a few months. This is because in CBT, clients learn to be their own therapist. When finishing treatment, sessions are scheduled less frequently to help people rely more on themselves to practice the skills they’ve learned. This ensures that people will be confident in their abilities to tackle whatever problems may arise after treatment.

For more information about what CBT is, what it is used to treat, and the methods we use, explore our site using the navigation menu at the top of this page, or visit our cognitive behavioral therapy exercises pages.