Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Teens

Therapist listening to patient
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Cognitive behavioral therapy often referred to as CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on making connections between thoughts, behavior, and feelings. Psychotherapists who use CBT help people identify and change dysfunctional patterns. CBT is often used with adolescents. It can be effective in treating a wide range of issues including eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression.

Basic Principles

CBT is based on the idea that there is a clear link between thoughts, behavior, and feelings. Here's an example:

  • Thought: I'm socially awkward
  • Feeling: Anxious
  • Behavior: Teen sits in the corner alone while at a party

A teen who thinks they are awkward might avoid eye contact and shy away from the conversation. Then, when they don't have positive social interactions, their belief that they're socially awkward is reinforced.

CBT aims to break that cycle by changing the way a teen thinks or behaves. 

A psychotherapist may help the teen challenge negative assumptions with a behavioral experiment. For example, the teen who thinks they are socially awkward might be challenged to strike up a conversation with five new people. If they experience some success, the belief that they are socially awkward might not be as strong. 

Additionally, the therapist may help them change their thoughts. When they tell themselves, "People think I'm weird," they might remind themselves, "Everyone is different and that's OK." Changing their thoughts can reduce the anxiety they experience.

How It Works

Teens often develop distorted core beliefs about themselves. CBT helps confront and modify those distortions. A teen who believes they're unworthy may always look for evidence that reinforces this belief. For example, if they get a bad grade on a test, they may think it's because they're stupid. And if a friend doesn't call them back, they may assume it's because the friend doesn't like them anymore.

A psychotherapist using CBT would help the patient identify those unhealthy thought patterns that contribute to mental health problems. A therapist may ask a series of questions and ask a patient to keep a thought record to help identify dysfunctional thoughts. In later sessions, specific techniques are utilized that teach new ways to think about maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors and may lead to more effective ways of getting one's needs met.


CBT helps teens learn how to interpret their environment differently. Compared to other therapeutic approaches CBT is short-term. Sometimes, only a handful of sessions are needed. It is also very problem-focused which means it deals with issues in the present. Treatment providers aren't likely to rehash a teen's childhood or look for hidden meaning in their behavior. Instead, sessions focus on helping the teen with problems going on now. 

This type of therapy can provide benefits such as:

  • Change negative thought patterns
  • Identify positive responses to stress
  • Improve communication with others
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Interrupt thoughts that lead to addictive or other self-destructive behaviors
  • Reduce fears and phobias

How to Find a Therapist

If your teen is struggling with a mental health problem or a behavioral issue, talk to his physician. A physician can rule out any possible medical issues contributing to the issue can refer you to a cognitive behavioral therapist. A cognitive behavioral therapist will likely want to interview you and your teen to gain a better understanding of the current issue. Then, sessions may include your teen only or the therapist may want you or other family members to attend.

CBT often involves homework assignments. Getting parents involved in supporting a teen's efforts to complete the homework can be key to getting better. Be sure to talk to the therapist about how you can best support your teen's treatment.

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