CBT was developed as an alternative to pure psychoanalysis, when it was discovered that certain clients reacted more positively by engaging with their own thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors than by simply having them analyzed by another person. The fundamental goal of CBT was to help people change the beliefs and thoughts they maintained about themselves and the world in order to be more functional and fulfilled in their lives.
Though CBT has roots in the behavior therapy of the early twentieth century with influence from such figures as Ivan Pavlov, Joseph Wolpe, and B.F. Skinner, the practice became streamlined by Aaron T. Beck, who is considered the father of cognitive therapy. When Beck began integrating free associative thinking in his sessions, he realized that his clients’ thoughts were affected more by emotional stressors than by the unconscious factors that Freud had previously attributed them to. Beck discovered that there was an internal dialogue occurring between his clients’ thoughts and emotions that resulted in certain behaviors, or what he characterized as “automatic thinking”.
From the nonjudgmental, objective viewpoint of a therapist, CBT can help people to get unstuck in negative cycles of automatic thinking and the distressing emotions that result, such as anger, anxiety, shame, and sadness. Though initially developed as a treatment for depression, CBT has been widely practiced to help people understand the connection between their thoughts and emotions. Studies show that it is more effective than medication in treating adults with mild to moderate depression, and it has been proven to help a wide array of people struggling with emotional and mental dysregulation.