Psychotherapy vs CBT: Understand the Difference

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 6, 2023
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Mental health is vital to our overall well-being, and understanding the different therapeutic approaches can be instrumental in addressing various mental health issues.

Today, we’ll delve into two familiar therapeutic terms: Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). We’ll explore their similarities and differences and how they approach mental illness and health treatment.

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Understanding Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Psychotherapy, often called talk therapy, involves discussing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a mental health professional. It aims to gain insight into your life, identify patterns contributing to your distress, and learn practical ways to manage your mental health.

On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on modifying harmful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. CBT is a structured approach to psychotherapy, where you work collaboratively with your therapist to identify negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies.

The difference between Psychotherapy and CBT is that CBT is a type of Psychotherapy.

Similarities and Differences

While psychotherapy and CBT involve talking to a mental health professional and aiming to improve mental health, their approach and focus differ.

  • Psychotherapy is broad and can encompass various therapeutic techniques, including CBT. It tends to be more long-term and explorative, focusing on self-understanding and personal growth.
  • Conversely, CBT is more focused and goal-oriented. It’s often short-term, aiming to provide quick relief from symptoms by changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.
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How Each Method Works

In psychotherapy, the therapist helps you explore past experiences and how they’ve shaped your current behaviors and thought patterns. This process can lead to healing and change.

CBT, however, is more present-focused. The therapist works with you to identify negative thoughts and behaviors impacting your life, such as anxiety. You’ll develop skills to change these patterns and improve your mental health.

Effectiveness and Limitations

Both psychotherapy and CBT are effective according to research in treating various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and more. However, their effectiveness can depend on the individual and the nature of their mental health issues.

Psychotherapy can benefit individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder or complex, long-standing issues. However, it may require a longer commitment than other therapies.

CBT, with its structured approach to behavioral therapies, can provide quicker symptom relief for specific conditions, like CBT for panic attacks. However, it may not fully address deeper, underlying issues or be as effective for individuals with complex mental health conditions.

Psychotherapy and CBT have many overlapping characteristics.

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Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) share many common characteristics:

  • Therapies such as psychotherapy and CBT emphasize a strong, trusting relationship between therapist and patient.
  • Both approaches are goal-oriented, helping to work towards specific objectives in the mental health journey.
  • Insight into thoughts, behaviors, and patterns empowers patients to make positive changes.
  • Structured sessions allow for the safe exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, while homework assignments reinforce learning outside therapy sessions.
  • Everyone’s mental health journey is unique; ask for help and guidance from a healthcare provider to find the right path.

Pros and Cons of Cognitive Therapy

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Embarking on the journey to mental wellness involves making informed decisions, and understanding the pros and cons of Cognitive Therapy can be a valuable compass guiding your path.

  • Pro – Present Focused: Cognitive Therapy concentrates on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, making it highly relevant to your daily life.
  • Con – Requires Active Participation: Success in Cognitive Therapy requires active participation and commitment, which might be challenging for those struggling with severe symptoms.
  • Pro – Evidence-Based: Cognitive Therapy is backed by substantial scientific evidence, demonstrating its effectiveness across various conditions (source).
  • Con – Limited Focus on Emotions: While Cognitive Therapy focuses heavily on thoughts and behaviors, it may delve less deeply into the emotional aspects of experiences.
  • Pro – Skills for Life: Cognitive Therapy equips you with coping skills and strategies that can be applied long after therapy ends, providing lasting benefits.
  • Con – Not Suitable for All: Cognitive Therapy might not be the best fit for everyone, especially those with complex mental health conditions or cognitive impairments (source).

Reach out to a healthcare provider to discuss if Cognitive Therapy is the right path for you. Each step you take is a step towards a healthier, happier you.

Cons and Pros of Psychotherapy


Embarking on a journey toward mental wellness can feel like stepping into the unknown, but gaining insight into the pros and cons of psychotherapy can be your guiding light.

  • Con – Time-Consuming: Psychotherapy often requires a substantial time commitment, which can be challenging for those with busy schedules (source).
  • Pro – Deep Emotional Exploration: Unlike other therapies, psychotherapy delves into the emotional aspects of your experiences, providing a comprehensive understanding of your feelings.
  • Con-Emotional Discomfort: Psychotherapy often involves discussing painful or uncomfortable emotions and experiences, which can initially increase distress.
  • Pro – Long-Term Change: Psychotherapy aims to identify and change deep-seated patterns, potentially leading to long-lasting improvement in mental health.
  • Con – Not for Everyone: Psychotherapy may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with severe cognitive impairments or certain other mental health disorders or conditions.
  • Pro-Personal Growth: Beyond symptom reduction, psychotherapy can promote personal growth, self-awareness, and improved relationships, enriching many areas of life.

Choosing the Right Therapy

Choosing between psychotherapy and CBT often depends on your individual needs and circumstances. Consider factors like the nature and severity of your symptoms, readiness for change, and personal preferences for therapy style.

Remember, the goal is to find a therapeutic approach that resonates with you and supports your mental health journey. Don’t hesitate to discuss your options with a mental health professional—they’re there to guide you toward the best decision.

Navigating mental health can feel overwhelming, but understanding your therapy options can empower you to make informed decisions. Whether you choose psychotherapy, CBT, or another approach, remember that seeking help is a significant step toward achieving better mental health.

Conclusion Psychotherapy vs. CBT:

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Psychotherapy offers deep introspection, while CBT provides a goal-directed approach. Both are valuable tools for healing and growth.

We hope this article has shed light on these therapies. Remember, it’s okay to ask, to explore, and most importantly, to seek help. We’re here to guide you with empathy and information.

You’re not alone. There’s a world of support waiting for you. So, take the next step. Reach out. Begin the conversation. Your mental health is essential, and you deserve the best care.

We understand that the world of mental health therapies can be overwhelming, and we’re here to help. Do you have questions about Psychotherapy vs. CBT? Please leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

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Additional Reading

For more distinctions between various mental health jobs/terms, please see our articles covering: counselor vs therapist and salary comparison, psychiatrist vs psychologist (depression), therapist vs psychologist, depression, LPC vs PsyD, clinical psychologist, counseling versus coaching, mentors vs sponsors, therapy quiz, trauma coach vs therapist, therapist vs life coaches, hospital vs psych ward, and psychologist vs social worker.

If You’re In An Emergency:

In a crisis, it’s crucial to understand that waiting for an online therapy session may not be the safest option. It’s essential to act immediately if you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm or harm to others. In such instances, please dial 911 without delay.

If you’re grappling with thoughts of self-harm, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available around the clock. Dial 988 for immediate assistance.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a National Helpline for those dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. By calling 800-662-HELP (4357), you can access a free, confidential service offering treatment guidance and valuable information, available 24/7, all year round. Your safety and well-being are paramount – please reach out when in need.

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