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CBT For Teens: How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works

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As the teen years are a rocky period of development, it’s not uncommon for a teen to develop mental health struggles. Fortunately, therapies like CBT are extremely effective to help.

If your teen is experiencing distressing emotions and dysfunctional behaviors, we’d love to share more about how CBT can assist in getting them back to feeling like themselves.

How Does CBT for Teens Work?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic process that intends to help someone make realistic connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal of a CBT therapist is to help teens identify negative thoughts and change their dysfunctional patterns of thinking, which in turn influences their feelings and behaviors.

The basic principle of the CBT process is that there is a clear and identifiable link between someone’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings or beliefs. For example, if a teen thinks they are too overweight (even when they’re not), they may start feeling depressed and skip meals. CBT works by helping the teen learn to be aware of their automatic negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive but realistic ones.

Essentially, CBT aims to target the distorted core beliefs that teens can unknowingly have about themselves, others, and the future. A CBT therapist will use talk therapy to teach a teen useful methods to replace these distortions with more helpful thinking patterns.

What Does CBT for Teens Help With?

For teens, CBT can help treat a wide range of mental health disorders. There are some changes that are made to tailor the treatment to this population, but it still remains highly useful.

The mental health disorders and emotional issues CBT can help teens with are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Depression
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sleep disorders
  • Behavioral issues (aggressive behaviors, oppositional defiant disorder)
  • Self-esteem and identity issues
  • Self-harm and suicidal ideation

Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy effective for children with depression?

Fortunately, CBT is an effective treatment for treating children and adolescents with depression. It can help younger children relieve their depressive symptoms by teaching them the appropriate skills to cope with negative emotions.

However, it’s important to emphasize that the therapeutic relationship between your child and their therapist has to be good. This ensures that they can fully engage in the treatment.

What Are the Benefits of Teen CBT

CBT helps teens tackle mental illness by teaching them how to interpret their circumstances differently. It does this by using a problem-focused approach, meaning only their issues in the present are dealt with. You won’t find psychotherapists convincing your teen to rehash their childhood or identify hidden meanings in their behavior. An upside to this approach is that it makes CBT a short-term treatment that will have long-lasting positive effects.

Short-Term Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • CBT activities for teens are designed to be more engaging and interactive, so they can be more involved in their sessions.
  • Teens learn practical solutions to overcome their struggles and unhealthy behaviors.
  • The CBT treatment plan for teens holds them accountable by giving them activities to complete when they’re at home. This way, they’re constantly reinforcing what they learn in their sessions.
  • Positive results can be reached quite quickly. On average, approximately 15 sessions are substantial for your teen to gain a good understanding of CBT skills.

Long-Term Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • When a teen actively applies the skills they learn in CBT sessions, they become natural. You can then find an increase in their self-awareness and emotional intelligence in the long term.
  • The skills training helps them respond to stress healthily, and they are likely to implement positive thinking in many areas of their lives.
  • A notable decrease in negative thought patterns and negative behaviors.
  • Teens can become more self-compassionate.

Common CBT Techniques & Tools for Kids & Teens

  • Guided discovery – helps to broaden the teen’s viewpoint on why they do what they do.
  • Cognitive reconstruction (thought framing) – an exercise to help a teen reframe their thoughts to be more positive in different situations.
  • Cognitive journaling – a structured way of journaling where a teen records their emotions, thoughts, and actions in different situations.
  • Relaxation techniques – self-soothing exercises that include mindfulness meditation techniques, paired muscle relaxation, and breathing techniques.

When Is CBT Recommended for Teens Over Other Therapy Types?

As every individual is different, personal preference can be a determining factor in recommending CBT for teens over other therapies. However, because CBT is so effective in treating many behavioral disturbances, it’s often prescribed as the first line of treatment.

How Can Parents Support Their Teens While They’re In CBT?

  1. Help your teen follow through with CBT homework assignments. As much as CBT is effective in sessions, teens will need guidance at home to ensure they’re implementing the new skills they’re learning.
  2. As a parent, be mindful of your communication with your teen. You want to show your child that they’re in therapy simply because they need help, not because they’re a bad person. Recognize how you’re communicating with your teen to build healthier communication patterns. It’s beneficial as your teen is also learning to shift their own thinking patterns.

What Is the Difference Between CBT and DBT?

Although dialectical behavior therapy stems from CBT, they are different. CBT focuses on changing harmful thoughts first, while DBT focuses on changing harmful behaviors first. This is because CBT is based on the theory that thoughts influence your feelings and behaviors, and DBT theorizes that emotion dysregulation influences behavior.

DBT is more about accepting a thought instead of changing it. Essentially, it helps a person assign less power to their negative thinking patterns.

  • You need to apply the techniques you learn to benefit
  • CBT doesn’t address family dynamics that may impact wellbeing

FAQ about CBT for Teens

Below are some commonly-asked questions about Clearfork Academy and the typical teen experience during treatment. If you don’t see your question below, please click here to see all FAQs or reach out to us directly for more information.

Absolutely. Research has shown that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) works effectively to help teens overcome a range of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, PTSD, and behavioral issues. CBT is also effective for teens who are struggling with substance abuse and other self-harming disorders.

Yes. Just as CBT works well for adults, it can also be tailored to meet the needs of teenagers who may be affected by one or more mental health conditions.

CBT is effective because it is based on evidence sourced from broad research and clinical practice. Because of the wide range of research, it is currently the gold standard and often the first line of treatment in psychotherapy.

CBT is suitable for teens of all ages, as well as young children and young adults. As CBT focuses on how our thoughts can influence our feelings and behaviors, your teen doesn’t need to have a mental health condition to benefit from this therapy.

Downsides of CBT are:

  • You need to apply the techniques you learn to benefit
  • Attending CBT sessions and doing exercises at home can take up extra time for a teen attending school
  • It may not be as effective for teens with learning difficulties or more dysfunctional mental illnesses
  • CBT doesn’t address family dynamics that may impact wellbeing

Medication is not necessary for CBT unless your teen’s condition requires it. If your teen is already on medication for a particular disorder, they can benefit from CBT to help make their recovery more effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) generally requires 30-minute to one-hour sessions weekly over a period of 3 to 5 months. If a teen is engaged in their treatment, they can typically see improvement after 6 to 12 sessions.

You can use personal referrals from friends and family whose children have benefited from CBT. Reliable online searches and trusted directories are also a great place to start if you have no personal referrals.

As CBT is psychotherapy, your insurance will cover it if your plan includes psychotherapy or behavioral medicine. Your insurance may only cover a specific amount of sessions, though.

CBT for Teenagers at Clearfork Academy

If you find your teen is struggling with mental health issues or you’re not understanding why they’re choosing to indulge in concerning behaviors, you should know that they deserve help. At Clearfork Academy, we’re here to provide comprehensive teen CBT interventions to ensure that your teen gets the support they need.

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