How long does cognitive behavioral therapy take?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’How long does cognitive behavioral therapy take?’’ We will see what it consists of and why it is so widely used among psychologists.

How long does cognitive behavioral therapy take?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy takes between 10 and 30 sessions, depending on the objectives of each patient. It is a short-term therapy, because it focuses on reaching well-defined results and the subsequent resolution of tasks by the patient.

Over the years, psychology has taken various approaches to understanding and addressing human functioning. Each of them with their own theoretical approaches and practical applications. For more than three decades, cognitive behavioral therapy has become the psychotherapeutic orientation with the greatest evidence of its efficacy.

It has been applied, with very good results, in very diverse problems. But it is also a very efficient and flexible option. You get significant changes in a limited time and the plurality of techniques covered gives you great flexibility to adapt to the specific problem and person.

Origin of cognitive behavioral therapy

According to the different times, the prevailing psychological current has varied and numerous alternatives have emerged with different approaches.

Two of them (behaviorism and cognitivism) are at the origin of the therapy that concerns us today. Therefore, in the first place, we have to understand what they consist of.


Behaviorism focuses its interest on visible behavior. Its object of study are only the behaviors that the individual emits and that can be observed and measured.

According to this current, behaviors are responses to certain stimuli, and their frequency increases or decreases depending on the consequences. Therefore, we can modify a person’s behavior by varying the relationships between stimulus, response and consequence.

For example: the person with a phobia of dogs has associated dogs and fear, that is why in the presence of it he runs away. If we can break that association, the dogs will stop being an aversive stimulus and the person will stop running away.

On the other hand, if we want a child to increase the frequency with which he eats vegetables, we should reward him every time he does.


This psychological approach focuses on studying cognitions, that is, thoughts or mental processes. He is interested in knowing the process that a human being performs after receiving information: how he processes it and how he interprets it.

The foundation of cognitivism is that we do not perceive reality as it is, but as we are. Each one of us, with his own internal processes, gives a different meaning to the reality that he perceives.

For example: you call a friend and they won’t answer you. You can think that he has not heard the call or you can interpret that he does not want to talk to you because he really does not like you. The reality is the same, but the internal process is completely different.

What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

Within the fields of psychological intervention and Clinical Psychology there is a large number of proposals that are offered to many types of patients and problems. The offer is very varied, and it is easy to get lost in the jungle of labels, names and descriptions of the therapeutic approach.

However, one of these types of therapy receives special attention nowadays, both in consultations and clinics and in psychology faculties.

It is about cognitive-behavioral therapy, a therapeutic orientation that has a scientifically proven efficacy in different types of intervention. In addition, one of the most characteristic aspects of this is that it adapts to a wide variety of needs and problems to be addressed in the treatment of patients.

Modifying behaviors and thoughts

If you have ever stopped to think about the conventional idea of ​​what a “psychological problem” is, you may have realized that this type of problem has two faces.

On the one hand, a material and objective aspect, which is recognizable by many people and which can be measured from specific scales. On the other hand, a side that responds to subjective states of consciousness, that is, aspects of the mental and private life of the person who has the problem and that usually have a translation in emotional terms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy responds to the need to intervene in these two areas. And it does so by promoting itself thanks to the synergies that are established between the part of the intervention focused on mental processes and the one that is oriented towards actions and changes in the patient’s material environment.

That is to say, this therapeutic orientation that acts both on actions and on thoughts.

How do you intervene in this type of therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by teaching to recognize thinking styles that predispose to reaching conclusions that are not very useful for the patient, or dysfunctional thoughts. For this, it is necessary to train the person to be able to reflect on their own way of thinking and consider which points are conflicting and which are not.

In this way, it is intended that the client has more capacity to question the categories with which he works (such as “success and failure”) and to detect typical patterns of thought that cause problems.

The process by which the patient recognizes the cognitive aspects that cause discomfort and can act on them is based on a model of action inspired by Socratic dialogue

This implies that during a part of the cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions, the professional will return the necessary feedback to the patient so that he, by himself, detects the contradictions or unwanted conclusions to which his thinking styles and his cognitive schemas.

The therapist does not guide the patient in this process, but rather poses questions and remarks statements that the client himself has made so that the latter can go deeper into the study of his own thinking.

The second part of cognitive-behavioral therapy involves intervening on the cognitive and material foci that have been detected.

This entails, on the one hand, setting specific objectives to be met, and on the other, training the patient to be able to determine, from his own criteria, the strategies that bring him closer to and away from these goals.

In addition, as the objectives have been defined in such a way that it can be verified in an impartial way whether they have been met or not, it is easy to measure the progress that is being made and the pace at which it is happening to take note of it and, if it occurs the case, introduce changes in the intervention program.

Meeting goals by going through a program of sessions with cognitive-behavioral therapy can mean, for example, significantly minimizing the effects of a phobia, ending an addiction, or abandoning an obsessive thinking style.

In what cases is it used?

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be applied to practically all ages, and in a wide variety of problems.

For example, it is used to intervene in anxiety disorders and phobias, dysthymia, Bipolar disorder, depression, etc.

It can also be used as an aid in cases of neurological disorders where it is necessary to provide support to know how to manage the symptoms in the best possible way, and even in psychotic disorders related to schizophrenia.

Of course, in some disorders, behavioral therapy has proven to be practically as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy, without the need to carry out tasks to modify beliefs and thought patterns.

For example, it is common for psychologists to resort to behavioral therapy, and not to cognitive-behavioral therapy, when it is necessary to care for very young children, since they do not yet control abstract thinking and the articulation of concepts through language.

The effectiveness of this type of psychotherapy

Currently, cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered to be the only type of psychotherapy whose results have been validated through the scientific method.

With this, it is understood that its efficacy is supported by empirical observations in which many groups of patients who have undergone a treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have improved significantly more than would be expected if they had not attended therapy or had followed a placebo effect program.

When it is said that cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective through the application of the scientific method, this means that there are strong reasons to think that the improvement experienced by people who have tried this type of therapy is caused by the use of these psychological interventions, and not by other variables.

This does not imply that 100% of the people who go to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions will improve, but a very significant portion of them will.

Furthermore, this improvement can be translated into objective and observable criteria, such as success or not when quitting smoking.

This is a characteristic that distinguishes cognitive-behavioral therapy from other forms of intervention, many of which, by not setting measurable objectives under a well-defined criterion, can hardly be subjected to empirical examination to determine their efficacy through the scientific method. .

On the other hand, it must be taken into account that the degree of efficacy of each type of therapy depends on the disorder to be treated; Bearing this in mind, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the one that has been shown to be effective in a greater number of psychological disorders.

FAQS: How long does cognitive behavioral therapy take?

How long does it take for CBT to be effective?

CBT is generally considered a short-term therapy, which can take five to twenty sessions. This depends on the needs of each patient.

How many sessions is cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT, which can take five to twenty hours, is usually considered a short-term therapy. You will agree on how many sessions you will need, along with your therapist. Any of the considerations to take into consideration are: the form or situation of the illness.

Is cognitive behavioral therapy long term?

No, CBT is short-term therapy.

How effective is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been recognized by medical professionals as a better alternative to current drug treatments for treating anxiety and depression.

What happens in CBT sessions?

Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are discussed with a mental health professional. CBT focuses on how your thinking affects the way you feel and act.

In this post we answered the question ‘’How long does cognitive behavioral therapy take?’’ We have seen what it consists of and why it is so widely used among psychologists.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


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Froggett, L. y Richards, B. (2002). Exploring the Bio-psychosocial. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, Vol. 5 (3). pp. 321 – 326.

Seligman, L.D., Ollendick, T.H. (2011). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders in youth. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 20 (2): pp. 217 – 38.