Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) refers to a group of interventions and techniques that have been shown through numerous research studies to be effective in treating a range of psychological disorders. It is used with both children and adults. The goal of CBT is to help the individual learn how emotions, thoughts, and behavior are related and how a distortion or problem in one may lead to problems in the others.

Problems related to emotions, thoughts, and behavior can create a cycle of maladaptive functioning. For example, a negative emotion such as anxiety (for example, “I’m nervous to talk in class”) may be worsened by negative thoughts (such as, “I will say something really stupid and everyone will laugh and make fun of me”) and lead to avoiding speaking up in class even when the person has good comments to make. The cognitive portion of CBT teaches that excessive negative feelings come from distorted or illogical thoughts, which are often so automatic that an individual may be unaware of them. Through the course of therapy, CBT teaches the individual how to identify these negative false beliefs and how to develop more positive and realistic thoughts and behaviors.

Treatment is typically short-term (12-16 weeks), skills-based, and involves active client participation in the completion of between-session homework assignments. CBT can be used with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who have sufficient verbal skills and ability to think about their thoughts and behavior. Some modifications in the techniques used with typically developing individuals are needed for individuals with ASD due to the learning differences that can be associated with ASD. For example, more time is needed for teaching about emotions, since this is often an area of weakness. The use of visual aids is another accommodation due to the visual and concrete learning styles of many individuals with ASD. It may also be helpful to incorporate the individual’s special interests into therapy activities in order to increase participation. Finally, greater parental involvement is often needed.

CBT has been used to effectively treat symptoms of anxiety, teach stress and anger management, and improve social skills in individuals with ASD. A number of different mental health professionals may provide CBT, including psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, and professional counselors. CBT may be done individually or in groups.

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Last Updated: June 8, 2016

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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