How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Work?

The most evidence based therapy for anxiety is CBT. (Image via Pexels/ Alex Green)
The most evidence based therapy for anxiety is CBT. (Image via Pexels/Alex Green)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment, which means it's based on scientific research and clinical expertise. CBT focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Negative or inaccurate thoughts are challenged and restated in logical and positive terms.

Anxiety doesn’t have a quick fix. While medication is sometimes necessary and part of a good treatment plan, therapy can also help you work through anxiety. It can help you discover the root cause of your anxiety and the steps you can take to combat that.


What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy directed at present issues. It's based on the idea that the way an individual thinks and feels affects the way they behave. The focus is on problem solving, and the goal is to change thought patterns to change responses to difficult situations.

In a typical CBT session, you learn to identify painful and upsetting thoughts you have about your problems and determine whether or not these thoughts are realistic.

If you see these thoughts as unrealistic, you learn skills that help you change your thinking patterns so that they are in more alignment with the situation. Once your perspective is more realistic, mental health professionals help you determine the appropriate course of action.

How Does CBT for Anxiety Work?

The main goal of traditional cognitive therapy is to encourage people to think more rationally.

Clinicians may need to guide patients through many phases to assist them in overcoming harmful and habitual cognitive biases. A counselor is then a guide in the therapeutic process and may take the following steps:


Identify any upsetting circumstances or scenarios in your life that cause anxiety. These could be things like physical ailments, divorce, sadness, anger, or indications of a mental illness. The issues and objectives you want to concentrate on may be discussed at length with your therapist.


To replace negative thoughts, the first step is becoming aware. (Image via Freepik/Rochak Shukla)
To replace negative thoughts, the first step is becoming aware. (Image via Freepik/Rochak Shukla)

Become conscious of your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs regarding where anxiety is stemming from.

Your therapist will ask you to discuss the issues you want to address once you've recognized them. That may involve paying attention to the narratives you tell yourself about experiences (self-talk), how you interpret events, and the assumptions you make about other people, the world, and yourself. You can be advised by your therapist to keep a record of your ideas.

Recognition of thoughts

It's important to recognize automatic thoughts that increase anxiety. (Image via Freepik/Storyset)
It's important to recognize automatic thoughts that increase anxiety. (Image via Freepik/Storyset)

We must be aware of the fact that everyone has automatic thoughts and images. It's important to note that automatic thoughts are uncontrollable cognitions that can be sparked by both external and internal stimuli.

That includes feelings, physical sensations, and other cognitive content (thoughts, images, memories, urges). Automatic thoughts are highly believable, and if they are believed or allowed to pass unchallenged, they can have a deep and negative impact on one's life.

Reshaping and restructuring

Through therapy, you will be able to change your negative or incorrect thinking. Your therapist will probably advise you to consider if your perspective of a situation is grounded in reality or is an inaccurate understanding of what's happening.

This action might be challenging. You might have ingrained beliefs about yourself and your life. Positive thought and behavior habits can be developed over time and require less effort to maintain.

By restructuring your thoughts, you can have greater control over your anxiety.

Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

The effectiveness of CBT for anxiety disorders and other common mental illnesses has been supported by decades of research. Other studies also support its effectiveness.

CBT is regarded as the 'gold standard' treatment for anxiety disorders. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety disorder can benefit from its symptom-relieving effects.

It has been shown that CBT, particularly trauma-focused CBT for kids and teens experiencing PTSD symptoms, helps patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience fewer symptoms.

Evidence also shows that cognitive behavioral therapy can treat prevalent diseases like depression, mood disorders, and substance use disorders.


Combating anxiety can be a challenge, but the good news is that you have steps you can take to work through it. CBT is a way to transform negative thought patterns to positively impact how you respond to situations.

By finding a therapist with expertise in cognitive therapy, you can take steps to manage your mental health. You can then take the skills you learn from CBT and apply them to situations in the future.

Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.

What do you think of this story? Tell us in the comments section below.

Edited by Bhargav
Be the first one to comment