Advantages and disadvantages of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
We analyze the positive and improvable aspects of this current of psychotherapy.
Psychology is a complex science, in which there are many different paradigms which study the psyche from different perspectives.
At present, one of the best valued and with more empirical evidence is the cognitive-behavioral, which has generated a large number of techniques in its therapeutic use.
The application of the therapies of this theoretical current has a series of great advantages, but it also presents some limitations and disadvantages in comparison with those of the cognitive-behavioral approach. and disadvantages in comparison with those of other paradigms. Throughout this article we will discuss some of the main advantages and disadvantages of cognitive-behavioral therapy, in order to learn from them and assess how they can be improved and in what sense it can learn from other currents and developments.
- Recommended article: "The 10 most effective types of psychological therapy".
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a basic definition
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the type of therapy and set of techniques based on the cognitive-behavioral model.. This type of therapy is based on the identification and subsequent work on the dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts that generate suffering or dysfunctionality in the patient, as well as the way he/she relates emotionally to them.
It is based on the cognitive-behavioral model, which is heir to the behaviorist perspective to which the advances of cognitivism are incorporated. This model is based on a strict methodology based on the scientific method, investigating on the basis of empirical observation and experimentation and starting from the verification and falsification of experimental hypotheses. The aim is to scientifically and objectively evaluate human behavior and the mental processes that govern it, operationalizing and making abstract constructs such as cognition and emotion measurable.
The main work is carried out with the cognitions and behaviors that are carried out, with a focus on teaching the patient to modify their expectations, beliefs and fears as well as to alter the dysfunctional patterns of behavior that are carried out because of these. It works through learning and modification of cognitions and behaviors, and the therapist can have different degrees of directivity in the therapy, although his role is that of guide or support in the process of change.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most valued at scientific level.It is undoubtedly the theoretical current most widely taught at the university level.
A great majority of current psychologists follow or have initially started from the cognitive-behavioral approach to develop professionally. This is due to the fact that this therapy offers a great number of advantages over other approaches, among which we can mention the following.
1. Based on the scientific method
One of the most outstanding virtues of cognitive-behavioral therapy is that the model of cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the scientific method. employs an experimental methodology that allows the objective analysis of the results of the therapy, so that it is very closely associated with the scientific method.It is therefore closely associated with the scientific method.
It is possible to elaborate hypotheses based on previous information and then experimentally test them and even replicate their results. In other words, it establishes a methodology that allows psychology to advance as a science.
2. Empirical evidence of its high effectiveness
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the type of therapy that presents the most empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of the techniques and subtypes of therapy it uses, based on the reduction of symptomatology. based on the reduction of the symptomatology of the different disorders to be treated.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has as another of its great advantages the fact that it is extremely versatile.. We can often find that specialists in this type of therapy accept and integrate techniques from other approaches, such as psychodynamic, humanistic or gestalt therapy.
It also evolves by incorporating new ways of acting or relating to the patient (such as constructivism) as well as new theories and techniques (such as contextual ones).
4. Subject as an active agent
In some paradigms of psychology the subject is seen as a passive agent, someone who reacts to the environment practically automatically.
The cognitive-behavioral approach was one of the first in which it began to be seen that it is the subject's own action that can lead to the overcoming or reduction of symptoms: therapy aims to provide the subject with tools so that he/she can cope with or modify by him/herself that which generates discomfort.
5. It values the role of the cognitive in behavior.
Our thoughts, beliefs, perspectives and capacities, as well as the way we process information from the environment, can be analyzed and worked with from the cognitive-behavioral paradigm. It is important to work not only on the content but also on how it is reached and the mental structures and schemas that influence its appearance.
6. Highly systematized
In addition to adhering to the scientific method, another of the great advantages of this therapy is its high degree of systematization.
Although depending on the technique in question there may be a greater degree of freedom, in general the techniques used by cognitive-behavioral therapy have a fairly clear basis, structure and way of proceeding (although the therapist must adapt to the responses given by the patient).
7. It allows the acquisition of competencies and skills
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is largely based on learning as a means to generate, modify or eliminate maladaptive behaviors or mental products. Likewise, its action makes the subject acquire abilities that he/she did not previously possess or that could benefit from a change or training, in a way that can not only help to solve a current problem but also to favor and optimize the adaptation and adaptation to the environment.
8. Effective in a Wide range of conditions
Another of the great advantages of this type of therapy is its wide applicability in most existing mental disorders, and even in non-pathological situations. Thus, it can work on problems such as anxiety, depression, obsessive problems, eating disorders or sexual disorders, among many others.
Disadvantages and limitations of the cognitive-behavioral model
The cognitive-behavioral therapy model, as we have seen, is very useful and allows the treatment of a large number of mental disorders. However, it has a number of limitations that should be taken into account, However, it has a number of limitations that should be taken into account. Among them we can highlight the following.
1. Focus on the current symptom
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is largely focused on working on the difficulties and the set of symptoms that are present at present. That is to say, it works from the present and in what is happening to us now. Although the past is taken into account and explored in order to explain the current situation, the causes that started the problem that afflicts the subject today are not usually treated directly in therapy.
And in many occasions it is necessary to work on the elements that originated the discomfort in the first place, because otherwise the discomfort may appear in another form.
2. Excessively cognitivist
Although one of the advantages of this therapy is that it works in depth on such relevant aspects as beliefs, expectations and thought processes, factors of great relevance in explaining our behaviors, it is true that sometimes Cognitive-behavioral therapy can sometimes err on the side of reductionism and of undervaluing aspects such as emotion and motivation.
It is not that they do not work on emotional elements, but the work in this area is done from a rational perspective and not so emotional or experiential.
3. Effective, but why?
Cognitive-behavioral therapies are highly effective and the various studies carried out tend to attest to this.
However, they offer little information as to why they are effective, they offer little information as to why they are effective or why they can sometimes fail.. It has been observed which techniques work best, but little attention has been paid to why.
4. Focus on the individual: little assessment of context
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is aware that the environment is a relevant factor in the origin, maintenance and even treatment of mental disorders, but it tends to focus exclusively on the individual. tends to focus exclusively on the subject who has the problem or the difficulty, and leaves aside most of the elements and leaves aside most of the contextual elements that affect the problems in question.
This limitation seems to be being overcome with the application of third-generation therapies, which are gradually becoming increasingly popular.
5. Aseptic and instrumental therapeutic relationship
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the high value of the therapeutic relationship is taken into account, but historically it has tended to be seen historically, it has tended to be seen as an avenue through which to apply the techniques.. In recent years however, and especially in contextual therapies, more and more work is being done on the therapeutic relationship as a per se therapeutic element, probably one of the most (if not the most) relevant in predicting the success of the therapy.
Some patients also indicate that these types of techniques, although effective, are cold and do not value or fully understand the suffering they endure, something that makes it difficult for them to trust them and for them to be successful.
6. Possible rigidity as a consequence
Classical cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on combating, changing or modifying the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that generate suffering for the subject..
It has a strategy of opposition to suffering, which in principle may seem positive but nevertheless may push the patient to an increasingly rigid behavior aimed at avoiding pain and leading to a poorly adaptive behavioral pattern, which in turn may be the origin of new suffering.
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Caro, I. (2009). Manual teórico-práctico de Psicoterapias Cognitivas. Desclée de Brouwer Psychology Library.
Vila, J. & Fernández, M.C. (2004). Psychological treatments. The experimental perspective. Madrid: Pirámide.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)