What is a Cognitive Therapist?
A cognitive therapist is a psychologist (or a counselor) who adheres to the principles of cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy was developed in the 1960’s by Aaron T. Beck as a way to treat depression. The underlying principle of this approach is that thoughts, behavior and feelings are connected, so our thoughts influence our emotions and our outlook on life. Negative thoughts can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn leads people to act in ways that can be unproductive. Negative thoughts can also have an effect on our physical body, by increasing the heart rate and promoting muscle tension and fatigue. A cognitive therapist teaches clients how to defuse these negative automatic thoughts that, in the extreme, can lead to depression.
Cognitive therapists encourage their patients to face reality and develop a more flexible way of thinking, acting and feeling. They teach the skills needed to break the cycle of negative thoughts that patients have automatically when a certain situation arises. For example, if a person makes a mistake on the job, he may think “I can’t do anything right” and take the mistake as evidence. This automatic thought triggers negative feelings and unproductive behavior. The therapist encourages the patient to understand that this view is not accurate. Eventually, the patient will be able to use the techniques of cognitive therapy to break the cycle and react appropriately.
What Does a Cognitive Therapist Do?
A cognitive therapist talks to patients and sometimes prescribes medication to help patients overcome poor esteem and/or depression. The therapist teaches patients how to identify and change inaccurate negative thinking, resulting in upsetting emotional responses and problem behaviors. Cognitive therapists look at each patient as an individual and develop a conceptualization to understand the patient’s internal realities. They then apply the appropriate interventions to help clients.
Cognitive therapists work with patients who have negative thoughts that occur automatically. For instance, if patients try something that doesn’t work out, they may feel that they always fail at everything. If they make the wrong call in a situation involving their child, they may think that they are the worst parent imaginable. Or when things don’t go their way, they may say that they are doomed to a life of unhappiness. Cognitive therapists show patients that these thoughts are distortions or exaggerations of the truth. Through therapy, people begin to think in a way that reflects the reality of the situation, their negative automatic thoughts stop fueling their depression, and they develop a more positive outlook on life.
A cognitive therapist teaches people how to identify and correct negative thoughts, and how to correct their false beliefs. They show patients how to break down problems into manageable segments so the task does not seem so daunting. First, the cognitive therapist pinpoints the problem as the patient sees it. He then delves into how the patient’s thoughts and emotions are affected by the problem. The therapist then asks about the patient’s physical reactions at the time the situation occurred, such as a racing heart or sweating. Then the cognitive therapist asks about the patient’s actions before the problem, while the situation was taking place, and after the situation occurred.
The therapist teaches patients how to view problems, and often assigns “homework” to assist in applying these problem-solving skills. Cognitive therapists believe that as patients make incremental changes in their thought processes and resulting behavior, they will eventually enjoy long-lasting improvement in mood and the way they view the world.
Cognitive therapists generally see patients for a short time, in which they intervene to solve a well-defined problem. A therapist seeing a patient for a phobia, for example, will diagnose the phobia and administer a specific intervention for dealing with the phobia.
Why Do We Need Cognitive Therapists?
Cognitive therapists help people who want to take an active role in their recovery. They treat people who are suffering from depression and low self-esteem as well as such conditions as anxiety, anger, chronic pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, panic disorder and insomnia. Cognitive therapists can help people whose negative thought patterns contribute to relationship problems. Cognitive therapists treat patients who are looking for a short-term treatment program, usually 8-16 weeks, depending on the nature of the problem.
We need cognitive therapists to teach patients problem-solving skills that they can apply to current situations and to problems that may occur in the future. They instruct people in using such tools as the Thought Record, which is designed to show patients the connection between their negative thoughts and their feelings, behavior and physical reactions.
Cognitive therapists can then show their patient how to determine if their thoughts were inaccurate, leading to emotional distress and unproductive behavior. Once the patient sees that their thoughts were inaccurate, they can take the next step and replace negative automatic thoughts with more realistic and positive beliefs, resulting in alleviating symptoms now and in the future.
Where Does a Cognitive Therapist Work?
Like other psychologists, cognitive therapists may manage their own private practice, or they may work with a group of health care providers including other psychologists. They often work in a hospital or in a community mental health center. Cognitive therapists also work in veterans’ medical centers, nursing homes, prisons, and in rehabilitation and long-term care facilities. A cognitive therapist may teach in a college or university, and work in business and industry.
What are the Requirements to Become a Cognitive Therapist?
To become a cognitive therapist, you must earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. While your degree does not have to be in a mental health-related field, coursework in psychology or social work provides a strong foundation for understanding the mind and mental health disorders. A degree in mental health can improve your chances of being admitted to a graduate program. Coursework in behavioral psychology and cognition are helpful, including courses in learning, memory and interpersonal psychology.
After obtaining an undergraduate degree, the next step in becoming a cognitive therapist is to earn a master’s degree, which takes two additional years. Psychologists who are cognitive therapists are typically required to earn a doctorate degree, PhD or PsyD, which will take up to six years. For the student who prefers clinical practice to academia and research, the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is the appropriate route. Cognitive therapists are typically required to complete an internship and a minimum of one to two years of professional experience.
Psychologists take courses in the history of psychology, general psychology, cognitive psychology, physiological psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and personality psychology. Experimental psychology coursework teaches basic research methods and experimental design, and statistics courses teach students methodology for investigating human behavior.
Licensing requirements vary by state, and aspiring cognitive psychologists can obtain state licensing requirements by contacting the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Board. Psychologists need to have completed an internship, a residency program or pre or post doctoral supervised experience to become licensed.
What Does It Take to Become a Cognitive Therapist?
- People Skills: A cognitive therapist must be able to enjoy working with people. They should be capable of working well with their clients and other healthcare professionals over the course of treatment, which may take some time.
- Compassion: Cognitive therapists work with people who are experiencing stressful situations, and they must have the ability to show compassion to help their patients.
- Problem-solving Skills: A cognitive therapist needs problem-solving skills to create the best action plan for treatment to help patients solve their problems and improve their lives.
- Communication Skills: Cognitive therapists need excellent communication skills to instruct their patients on the techniques of cognitive therapy to change their beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
- Analytic Skills: A cognitive therapist gathers information by interviewing patients and looking at such documents as the Thought Record, and they need analytical skills to draw conclusions from the information they gather. Those performing research need to have the ability to analyze information logically.
- Listening Skills: Cognitive therapists need excellent listening skills so they can understand the problems their clients are facing and evaluate their progress.
- Observational Skills: A personality psychologist must be capable of reading people’s actions, facial expressions, body language, behavior and social interactions to study people’s attitudes and behaviors and come to the right conclusion.
- Business Skills: Individuals in private practice need good business and accounting skills to keep the business intact.
What are the Disadvantages of Being a Cognitive Therapist?
While becoming a cognitive therapist can be very rewarding, there are some drawbacks to the profession. It takes a lot of education and preparation to become licensed, and setting up a private practice can be a challenge. Once the practice is ongoing, there is a lot of paperwork to contend with, including billing out to insurance.
Cognitive therapists deal with clients in distress on a daily basis, and that can be emotionally draining. Therapists must learn how to create a division between their jobs and their life and practice stress management to avoid burnout. Also, as a cognitive therapist your work schedule may sometimes be erratic if you are dealing with patients who are in crisis situations.
Cognitive therapists must also devote some time to finding new clients if they are in private practice, typically by building relationships with other mental health providers and medical professionals who may refer patients to your practice.
How Much Does a Cognitive Therapist Make?
According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the medial annual wage for all psychologists in 2014 was $89,810. The lowest ten percent earned less than $42,230, while the top ten percent earned over $120,670. Fir clinical, counseling and school psychologists, the medial annual wage was $74,030.
What is the Job Outlook for Cognitive Therapists?
The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook states that overall employment for all psychologists is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2012 to 2022. This projected growth is approximately the same as the average for all occupations. The projection for clinical, counseling and school psychologists is 11 percent. The number of clinical, counseling and school psychologists is expected to increase from 145,100 in 2012 to 161,500 in 2022.
The expected increase is the result of greater demand for psychological services in mental health centers, social service agencies, hospitals and schools. Demand is expected to increase as people call on psychologists to help them with their problems, and handle depression, relationship problems, stress on the job and substance abuse issues. Psychologists help veterans and other survivors of trauma, and individuals struggling with age related problems or conditions such as autism.
The prospects for employment are expected to be the greatest for those with a specialist or doctoral degree.
What Careers are Similar to Cognitive Therapy?
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people with problems deal with family relationships and find strategies that will help them manage mental disorders and live a more fulfilling lifestyle. A master’s degree is required.
- Market Research Analyst: A market research analyst helps corporations understand the products consumers are willing to buy and the price they are willing to pay. They study market conditions to determine the sales potential of a service or product. A bachelor’s degree is required.
- School and Career Counselor: School and career counselors guide students in making career decisions and develop the social skills they need for success. A master’s degree is required.
- Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers help students with a range of disabilities, by adapting general education lessons. The minimum education requirement is a bachelor’s degree.
- Social Workers: Social workers help people cope with issues that come up in their everyday lives. In most cases, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is required.
- Sociologists: Sociologists study social behavior and society. They look into social institutions, cultures and groups in society.