graphic drawing of lady next to question mark depicting person thinking about CBT counseling

5 things you should know about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) counseling

By Jason Wooden, PhD and Kristal McKinney, LICSW, CMHS | February 21, 2021

CBT counseling is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, and many other challenges.

It’s a collaborative process where the therapist helps you identify and change thought patterns and behaviors at the root of the problem.

CBT counseling can help patients deal with stress, anxiety, depression, and other issues involved with poor sleep.

So, you’re thinking about giving CBT counseling a try?

If you’re wondering if CBT counseling can help with your insomnia and sleep issues, you’re likely not the only one.

Every night as many as a third of adults struggle with sleep worldwide.  According to the CDC, over 80 million adults in the US are sleep deprived.

That’s a lot of people.

And poor sleep is nothing to take lightly.

It can make life hard for you and the people around you.

Yes, after a night of poor sleep, you wake up feeling lousy, but it doesn’t end there.  Your brain doesn’t work as well as it should, you have a harder time focusing, and you don’t cope as well.

No surprise, sleep-deprived people don’t perform as well at school, on the job, or for that matter in life.

If you’re sleeping poorly night after night, over the long term it can increase your risk for other serious issues, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.  (There’s a whole host of other chronic and acute conditions linked to poor sleep.)

Given how much is at stake it’s worth considering ALL options.

Perhaps, you’ve been told to try CBT counseling and you’re wondering exactly what it is…

Maybe it sounds like some fancy psychobabble you saw on TV or in a news story.

Despite what you may think, CBT, short for cognitive behavioral therapy, is actually pretty practical and has a great track record of helping people with all sorts of issues.  It’s also pretty user friendly.

Let’s demystify it.

Let’s take a look at five things you should know and how CBT counseling can help you sleep better.

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photo of female patient getting upset during CBT counseling

1) CBT counseling is not what you think

When some people think of seeing a psychotherapist, they picture themselves laid out on a couch getting relentlessly badgered by a therapist until they crack.

Counseling has come a long way from the images many people get from movies and TV shows.  Therapists are not out to cross-examine and “crack” you. And you don’t have to lay on a couch.

They’re not there to judge and give you the answers.  It’s about helping YOU find the answers within YOURSELF.

photo of magician with magic hat

2) CBT counseling is not hocus pocus

Okay, there’s no black box, magic wand, or mysterious methods.  CBT counseling is more about taking what you’ve got and practicing ways to look at it differently.

It is based on the concept that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors are all interconnected.  Problematic thoughts and feelings can trap you in an unhealthy cycle.

The goal is to help identify negative thoughts and help you develop healthier ways of thinking on a daily basis so you can respond to challenges more effectively.

drawing showing how physical, mental, and emotional are connected

Some of the strategies and techniques used include:

  • journaling
  • role playing
  • reflective listening
  • reframing
  • relaxation exercises
  • mindfulness meditation
  • visualization
  • distress tolerance tools

So, CBT is not just what’s in your head, it’s all about linking that to real world results.

man sitting down with female therapist for CBT counseling session

3) CBT counseling is a partnership

CBT is all about helping you help you.  Your therapist will work collaboratively with you to identify and change thought patterns and behaviors.

Since it’s a real partnership, it’s driven by your unique challenges and goals.  The therapist is there as a guide and coach to help you find the answers within you. 

CBT is most effective when you invest time into the counseling sessions and any homework the therapist assigns to facilitate your journey.

photo of glasses next to the word research

4) CBT counseling works

CBT is currently considered to be the gold standard for psychotherapy counseling to help people with a variety of challenges.

Numerous studies have shown its effectiveness for treating anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia.  In fact, CBT has been shown to be just as effective if not more effective than medications.

Other challenges CBT has been shown to be effective for include:

  • substances abuse (alcohol and drug)
  • anger issues
  • marital issues
  • eating disorders
  • behavioral issues
cartoon of computer screen with sleep counselor

5) CBT counseling can be done from anywhere

The days of having to go to someone’s office for a therapy session are long gone.  With modern video conferencing, you connect with your therapist from the comfort of your own home for a teletherapy session.

Research has shown that teletherapy is just as effective as in person psychotherapy counseling.

All that’s needed is a good internet connection, computer device (desktop computer, tablet, or smart phone), camera, and microphone.

How CBT counseling can help insomnia and sleep issues

Did you know that CBT sleep counseling is one of the most effective treatments for insomnia?

That’s because stress, anxiety, and depression are among the most common causes for insomnia.

We all know from personal experience how hard it is to fall asleep with a racing mind.  Stress and anxiety make it harder to fall asleep AND harder to stay asleep.

It turns out people who sleep poorly are more at risk for stress, anxiety, and depression.  If you’re not careful, you can get into a vicious cycle where mental issues leads to more poor sleep and poor sleep leads to more mental health struggles.

So, you can see there’s a strong mind-body link to sleep.  Patterns of thinking, attitudes, associations, behaviors, and daily habits can make a big difference for how well you sleep at night.

CBT sleep counseling can help identify and change thoughts and behaviors that affect sleep.

CBT counseling for insomnia (CBT-i for short) can help with any stress, anxiety, and depression issues you’re dealing with that’s making things worse.

CBT-i uses various techniques to help you develop healthier ways of thinking and habits to keep your sleep on track:

Cognitive psychotherapy – helps you identity attitudes and beliefs that affect sleep

Sleep hygiene training – helps you change daily habits that affect sleep

Stimulus control – helps you have a more positive response to your bed at night

Sleep restriction – matches the time you spend in bed to how long you sleep

Relaxation training – teaches you how to prepare your mind and body for sleep

Biofeedback – uses sensors to help you recognize and manage the effects of stress and anxiety on the body

How to find a CBT sleep therapist:

Now that you know what CBT counseling can do for you, you’re probably wondering how to get started.

You can check an online listing:
Find a Sleep or Insomnia Therapist (PsychologyToday.com)
Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine directory

You can also ask your doctor or sleep specialist about sleep therapists.

Some things to inquire about include:

  • credentials
  • licensing
  • experience
  • fees
  • accepted insurance
  • free initial consultation where you can test the waters
  • teletherapy options

You can also check for complaints filed again the therapist.

Getting the most out of CBT counseling

Once you’ve done your homework and found a therapist you want to try, there are some other things you should keep in mind.

To get the most out of your therapy sessions, it’s important that you:

  • Feel comfortable with the person you’re working with
  • Trust the person you’re working with
  • Commit to showing up for your sessions and doing your homework
  • Avoid distractions during your session
  • Maintain an attitude of acceptance
  • Stay open minded
  • Be willing

Part of the power of CBT counseling is that you get to learn about things you’re not aware of that may be holding you back.  That’s why it’s important to stay open minded and trust in the collaborative process with your therapist.

Sources:

1. “World Sleep Day Talking Points”, World Sleep Society.

2. “More Than A Third Of Americans Don’t Get Enough Sleep”, 2016, Huffpost.com

3. “Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)”, NHS website

4. Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy, Front Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 29;9:4.

5. The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses, Cognit Ther Res. 2012 Oct 1;36(5):427-440.

6. “How well is telepsychology working?”, American Psychological Association website

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