What is CBT?

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a problem-focused type of intervention. Rather than an in-depth focus on past experience, cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) seeks to teach children to become their own therapist. CBT helps kids recognize their thought patterns and identify where and when those patterns help and where they hurt. Using problem solving strategies and skill building techniques the child, parent, and therapist work together to change dysfunctional thoughts and replace them with more proactive thoughts and behaviors.

Aaron Beck, MD and Elisa Nebolsine, LCSW. 2008CBT emphasizes collaboration and ongoing effort outside of the therapy session. Children will regularly be assigned homework (don’t worry, it’s fun and they get prizes) to increase their awareness of their own feelings. Frequently they will need some assistance from their parents to help identify and record this information. The connection between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors will be a central part of our discussion as will the ability of the child to make changes within that “circle” of relating:


Started in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, CBT developed out of Freudian therapy. Dr. Beck began his psychiatric career as an analyst and set up studies to show the effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment (Freudian therapy). He was unable to show that psychoanalytic treatment was an effective intervention for depression. Out of his research findings, he began to develop what is now known as cognitive theory. Since that beginning in the sixties, literally hundreds of research studies have been conducted that show the efficacy of cognitive therapy. 

The evolution of CBT over the past fifty years has been remarkable. While originally the focus was on depression, research has since shown highly effective results on areas including anxiety, self esteem, anger management, personality disorder, and more. Since the late 1980s, the field of CBT with children has made dramatic strides and has been shown to be highly effective with childhood mood disorders. (For more information on the research with CBT and kids click on the “research” section of this site.)