CBT for Health Problems

Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in treating a wide range of health disorders. CBT interventions can increase coping with difficult disorders, reduce negative emotions that exacerbate medical problems, and even reverse certain medical conditions. A large body of research supports the use of CBT for chronic pain, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and high blood pressure, to name a few. 

CBT for health problems addresses the mind-body connection by suggesting a role for the mind in the cause as well as the treatment of illness. More and more in medicine, people are seen as complex systems. In other words, illness is understood to be caused by many different factors rather than one single biological factor. CBT for health problems therefore moves away from an outdated linear model of health, understanding that illness can be caused by combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. This more modern conceptualization is known as the biopsychosocial model of health and illness.

The traditional separation of mind and body has been challenged by mainstream medicine the last few decades. Instead of the more traditional dualistic model of health and illness, medicine has moved toward an increasing focus on the importance of the interaction between mind and body. The holistic or whole-person approach to health evidences such a shift in the way we understand and treat illness. Likewise, CBT maintains that the mind and body interact. For instance, the way a person experiences his/her life (“I am feeling stressed”) has a direct impact on their body (for example, the release of the stress hormone cortisol) which can dramatically impact the individual’s health status. Similarly, the ways a person thinks also influences behavior (“I am stressed, so I will have a cigarette”) which in turn can have an impact on health.

Goals of CBT for Health Problems

Empowering the Patient: Illness is the result of a combination of factors, taking the patient out of the passive victim role. The recognition of the impact of behavior in the cause of illness means the individual can be empowered to take responsibility for their health and illness.

Empowering the Treatment: According to CBT for health problems, the whole person needs to be treated, not just the physical changes that have taken place. This can take the form of behavior change, encouraging changes in beliefs and coping strategies, as well as compliance with medications.

Taking Charge of Treatment: Because in CBT for health problems the whole person is treated, not just their physical illness, the patient is can be as active as they want in their own treatment. This may take the form of working to increase medication compliance, taking the initiative to change beliefs, and working with the therapist to create lasting pro-health habits. The patient is never seen as a victim, but instead, a crucial component in maximizing the positive impacts of treatment.

Click on the links below to find out more about CBT for health problems.

CBT for Cardiovascular Disease

CBT for Chronic Pain

CBT for Gastrointestinal Disease and IBS

CBT for Diabetes and Weight Loss


Click for more information about What CBT is and How it Works 

Learn about University of Pennsylvania's holistic Positive Health Initiative.