Psychology is a complex science, in which there are many different paradigms from which to study the psyche from different perspectives.
Currently, one of the most valued and empirical evidence is cognitive behavioral, which has generated a large number of techniques in its therapeutic use.
The application of therapies in this theoretical stream has a number of great advantages, but it also has certain limitations. and disadvantages compared to 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 which way they can learn from other currents. and developments.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a basic definition
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the type of therapy and the set of techniques that start from the cognitive-behavioral model.. This type of therapy is based on the identification and subsequent work of dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts that generate pain or dysfunction in the patient, as well as how they relate to them emotionally.
It is based on the cognitive-behavioral model, which inherits the behavioral perspective into which advances in cognitivism are incorporated. This model is based on a strict methodology based on the scientific method, research based on empirical observation and experimentation and based on the verification and falsification of experimental hypotheses. It aims to scientifically and objectively assess human behavior and the mental processes that govern it, operationalizing and creating measurable abstract constructs such as those of cognition and emotion.
The main work is done with the cognitions and behaviors that are realized, with an approach that aims to teach the patient to change their expectations, beliefs and fears as well as to modify dysfunctional behavior patterns that are realized due to these. It works through the learning and modification of cognitions and behaviors, being able to have the therapist different degrees of directivity in the therapy although his role is that of guide or of support in the process of change.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most valued scientifically, And it is certainly the theoretical current that is taught the most at university level.
A large majority of current psychologists follow or initially took the cognitive-behavioral approach to develop professionally. And this is because this therapy offers many advantages over other approaches, including the following.
1. Based on scientific method
One of the most important virtues of cognitive behavioral therapy lies in this model of uses an experimental methodology that allows an objective analysis of therapeutic resultsIt is therefore closely associated with the scientific method.
It is possible to develop hypotheses based on previous information to later test them experimentally and even to reproduce their results. In other words, it establishes a methodology that allows psychology to advance as a science.
2. Empirical proof of its high efficiency
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the type of therapy with the greatest empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of therapy techniques and subtypes which uses in accordance with the reduction of the symptomatology of the various disorders to be treated.
Another great advantage of cognitive behavioral therapy is that it is extremely versatile.. And it is that we can often find how specialists in this type of therapy accept and integrate techniques from other approaches, such as psychodynamic therapy, humanism or gestalt.
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 the contextual).
4. Subject as active agent
In some paradigms of psychology, the subject is seen as a passive agent, someone who reacts to the medium almost automatically.
The cognitive-behavioral approach was one of the first in which he began to see that it is the action of the subject himself that can lead to overcoming or reducing the symptoms: the therapy aims to give instruments about because she herself can even cope with or change what generates discomfort.
5. Evaluate the role of cognitive in behavior
Our thoughts, beliefs, perspectives and abilities, as well as the way we process information from the environment, are analyzable and actionable 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 patterns that influence its appearance.
6. Very systematized
In addition to attributing 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 for cognitive behavioral therapy have a fairly clear basis, structure and procedure (although the therapist will need to be aware of this). ‘adapt to the responses given by the patient).
7. It helps to acquire skills and abilities
Cognitive behavioral therapy relies heavily on learning as a means of generating, modifying or eliminating inappropriate behaviors or mental products. Also, their performance leads the subject to acquire skills that he did not previously have or that could benefit from change or training, in a way that can not only help solve a current problem but also encourage and optimize adaptation and adaptation to the environment. .
8. Effective in a variety of conditions
Another great advantage of this type of therapy is its wide applicability in most existing mental disorders, and even in non-pathological situations. Thus, we can work on issues such as anxiety, depression, obsessive problems, eating disorders or sexual disorders, among 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, presents a number of limitations to be taken into account. Among them we can highlight the following.
1. Focus on the current symptom
Cognitive-behavioral therapy it focuses largely on the work through the difficulties and the set of symptoms that are present today. In other words, it works from the present and into what is happening to us now. If the past is taken into account and explored to explain the current situation, at the level of therapy, the root causes of the problem that afflicts the subject today are usually not directly addressed.
And in many cases, it is necessary to work on the elements that first caused the discomfort, otherwise the discomfort may appear in another form.
2. Excessively cognitivist
If one of the advantages of this therapy is that it works in depth on aspects as relevant as beliefs, expectations and thought processes, factors of great relevance to explain our behaviors, the truth is that sometimes cognitive-behavioral therapy may sin reductionism and to value to a lesser extent aspects such as emotion and motivation.
Not that they don’t work on emotional elements, but the work in this area is done from a rational perspective and not as emotional or experiential.
3. effective, but .. why?
Cognitive behavioral therapies are very effective and the various studies carried out generally attest to this.
however, they offer little information on 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 the reason.
4. Focus on the individual: little appreciation of the context
Cognitive behavioral therapy has in mind that the environment is an important factor in the origin, maintenance and even treatment of mental disorders, but he tends to focus exclusively on the subject having the problem or difficulty and leaves out most of the contextual elements that affect in-game issues.
This limitation seems to be resolved with the application of third generation therapies, which are gradually enjoying increasing popularity.
5. Aseptic and instrumental therapeutic relationship
In cognitive behavioral therapy, however, the high value of the therapeutic relationship is taken into account. historically, it has tended to be viewed as a route through which to apply techniques. In recent years, however, and particularly in contextual therapies, more and more work has been done on the therapeutic relationship as a therapeutic element in itself, probably one of the most (if not the most) relevant for predicting the therapy success.
Some patients also report that these techniques, while effective, are cold and do not fully value or understand the suffering they are going through, making it difficult for them to trust and succeed in them.
6. Possible stiffness as a result
Classical cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on combating, changing or modifying the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that generate the subject’s suffering..
There is a strategy of opposition to suffering, which in principle may seem positive but which may nevertheless lead the patient to increasingly rigid behavior aimed at avoiding pain and leading to poorly adaptive behavioral behavior, which in turn can be the source of new Suffering.
Cavall, VE (1998). Handbook of Behavior Modification and Therapy Techniques. 21st century.
Car, I. (2009). Theoretical and practical manual of cognitive psychotherapies. Brouwer Desclée Psychology Library.
Vila, J. and Fernández, MC (2004). Psychological treatments. The experimental perspective. Madrid: Pyramid.