This article will help educate you about the differences between psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so that you can make informed decisions about the most suitable approach for your mental health treatment needs.
Mental health therapy refers to a broad range of different forms of talk therapy. Talk therapy gets its name because you talk with a therapist. Psychotherapy refers to several forms of talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Choosing the right form of therapy for your treatment needs can help you improve your mental health.
What is psychotherapy?
Traditional psychotherapy is a type of mental health treatment that helps you identify and change dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Psychotherapy can utilize several tools and strategies to help you live a healthier life.
Psychotherapy explores past experiences, identifies harmful behaviors, provides healthy coping skills, and builds better interpersonal relationships.
With psychotherapy, you’ll focus on how your early life experiences impact your current emotional response and behavior. During your sessions, you’ll explore all aspects of your life and use that exploration to help you focus on reshaping how you understand yourself, heal from previous emotional or psychological wounds, and replace unhealthy behaviors or thought patterns with positive ones.
Some forms of psychotherapy include:
- Behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
With psychotherapy, you have to maintain a trusting relationship with your therapist as you will work with that individual long-term. Your therapist doesn’t assign homework, doesn’t necessarily have the same structure and goal setting as other forms of treatment but instead provides an open-ended opportunity to explore any underlying causes that may contribute to your current state and help you address those causes and other issues in the present.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that provides short-term treatment for thought management. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify negative automatic thought patterns you have and replace them with positive ones.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you focus more on changing your thoughts. You’ll develop a better understanding of how you might have distorted thoughts, you’ll learn to approach those distorted thoughts more logically, you’ll face your emotions and thoughts head-on instead of avoiding them or ignoring them, and you’ll learn how to calm your mind and body simultaneously.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an active form of therapy where you take on a lot of the work. You’ll have homework assignments regularly with a lot of structure in each of your sessions.
This type of therapy requires significant motivation because you’ll play such an active role in each of your sessions and overall treatment.
Differences between psychotherapy and CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy vs. psychotherapy goals
- The primary goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors so that you can have more adaptive emotional responses in life. CBT works to provide specific techniques to target problems.
- Psychotherapy empowers you to gain control over your life by addressing issues in your past that may be contributing to your current mental health state. Psychotherapy can provide opportunities for self-exploration and transformation because of how the sessions explore underlying causes of mental health conditions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy vs. psychotherapy focus
- Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the present moment and issues that are happening currently. Cognitive behavioral therapy is heavily goal-oriented, so you’ll set up the goals you want to achieve over the course of your several weeks of therapy and work toward finding Solutions and making changes.
- Psychotherapy focuses on past experiences or traumatic events. Traditional psychotherapy is open-ended and exploratory, which means it doesn’t have the same measured and tracked progress but offers an opportunity to freely explore things in your past or present.
Difference between CBT and psychotherapy type
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can take place with an individual therapist but can also incorporate several group therapy sessions.
- Most traditional psychotherapy is an individual therapy where you work one-on-one with your therapist.
Difference between psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy length
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide skills training over a few months, usually an average of 12 to 16 4 weeks. Sessions are typically 45 minutes once per week, with a lot of homework each time.
- Psychotherapy involves lengthy treatment plans over the course of several months or years. Sessions are usually one hour and take place several times per week, though there isn’t homework like CBT.
Common mental health conditions treated by psychotherapy vs. CBT
Psychotherapy can be used to effectively treat several mental health issues, including personality disorders, mood disorders, and trauma. Psychotherapy can be used to treat:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood disorders
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
By comparison, cognitive behavioral therapy is best applied to conditions like anxiety disorders and depression. CBT can be used to treat:
- Anxiety disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Substance use disorders
- Bipolar disorders
Which approach is right for you?
When choosing between psychotherapy and CBT, you should speak with a mental health professional to decide which therapy is right for you. In some cases, you might benefit most from combining psychotherapy and CBT.
For some clients, traditional psychotherapy can help resolve conflict, cope with life changes, come to terms with current issues, and recover from trauma. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help relieve anxiety or stress, resolve conflict, cope with underlying causes, learn to manage unhealthy automatic thoughts, learn to replace unhealthy reactions with positive ones, and improve sleep. In effect, psychotherapy focuses on the past, while CBT focuses on the present.
Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have several overlapping characteristics. For that reason, some practitioners encourage the adoption of both into a given treatment plan. Both psychotherapy and CBT are forms of talk therapy that focus on changing your thought patterns or your behaviors, and they can both be used to treat several overlapping mental health conditions like substance abuse, depression, or anxiety.
As you review the difference between psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, you’ll have a better understanding of the goals, length, and focus of each. But when choosing between cognitive behavioral therapy vs. psychotherapy, it’s best to seek professional advice in order to determine the most appropriate approach for your mental health treatment.