CBT Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Don’t know the meaning of CBT? We can help. Read on as we explore the meaning behind this common acronym, uncover how it’s used, and more.

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When searching for a therapy program, you’ve likely come across many different acronyms such as CBT — but what does it mean? Read on to find out!

What Does CBT Stand For?

CBT stands for cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy that has become an essential part of psychology. 

Let’s take a look at a few definitions:

  • CBT is psychotherapy that combines behavior therapy with cognitive therapy by identifying maladaptive or faulty patterns of thinking, emotional response, or behavior and substituting them with desirable patterns of thinking, emotional response, or behavior. Often used interchangeably with cognitive therapy, CBT is used to treat various mental and emotional disorders. 
  • Another definition provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness says CBT focuses on exploring relationships among an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 
  • The experts at Mayo Clinic say CBT is a common type of talk therapy — aka psychotherapy — that is typically done with a mental health clinician (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way through a limited number of sessions. 

Ultimately, CBT can be defined as a structured type of psychotherapy that involves dealing with an individual’s beliefs to alter the way they think and react to the things around them. It’s based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion), and how we act (behavior) all interact together. 

In other words, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behavior. 

The Origins of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

CBT originated in the 1960s via the work of Aaron Beck, a psychoanalyst at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He noted that certain types of thinking contributed to emotional problems. Beck dubbed these “automatic negative thoughts” and created the process of cognitive therapy. 

An umbrella term for many different therapies that share some common elements, cognitive behavior therapy was originally developed as a treatment for depression but was later adapted to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance use disorders and addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Medically unexplained symptoms (ex: seizures, fatigue)

In addition, CBT is a useful therapeutic approach to address emotional challenges, such as: 

  • Marital conflict
  • Cope with grief or loss
  • Everyday challenges
  • Low self-esteem
  • Overcome emotional trauma
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Discover techniques to cope with stressful life situations
  • Treat a mental health condition when medications aren’t a good choice

Although CBT can’t cure the physical symptoms of these conditions, it may help people cope better with their symptoms. This, in turn, can improve their overall quality of life. 

How Does CBT Work?

As mentioned above, CBT typically takes place over a limited number of sessions. While it can vary from person to person, you’ll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two weeks. 

During your sessions, you and your therapist will work together to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You’ll do this to decide if these patterns are unhelpful or unrealistic before determining their effect. Your therapist will then help you work out how to change any unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

The steps in CBT typically include:

  • Identify situations or conditions that are causing you trouble
  • Become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about these specific problems 
  • Identify a negative or inaccurate way of thinking
  • Change a negative or inaccurate way of thinking

As you go through the process, your therapist may ask you to do “homework” — reading, activities, or exercises that add to what you learn during your weekly sessions — and encourage you to apply what you’re learning in your daily life. 

The end goal of CBT is to teach you to apply the skills you’ve learned during treatment to future situations. It aims to transform any ways of thinking and behaving that result in negative outcomes. If people learn negative ways of thinking, they can automatically start to think in this harmful way. CBT focuses on challenging these automatic thoughts and comparing them with reality. 

The Conclusion

So, what does CBT stand for?

Simply put, CBT stands for cognitive behavior therapy. CBT can be defined as a structured type of psychotherapy that involves dealing with an individual’s beliefs to alter the way they think and react to the things happening around them. 

Although originally developed to treat depression, CBT has been shown to be an effective way of treating a wide range of different mental health conditions, such as anxiety, PTSD, and OCD.

One of the best benefits of CBT is that after your treatment has ended, you can continue to use and apply the many principles learned to your daily life, helping to make it less likely that your symptoms will return.

That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that CBT can’t make stressful situations disappear. However, it can help you to adopt healthier habits. In doing so, CBT can teach you to respond to these common stressors in a much more positive manner that will leave you feeling better overall. 

If you’re interested in CBT, be sure to do your due diligence to find a qualified professional. If you need help, your primary care physician might be able to recommend a CBT therapist locally. 


  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy – InformedHealth.org | NCBI Bookshelf
  2. Psychotherapy | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy | Mayo Clinic