What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are types of treatment that are based firmly on research findings. These approaches aid people in achieving specific changes or goals.

Changes or goals might involve:

  • A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
  • A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
  • A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
  • A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like lessening back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.
Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life, not on personality traits. Behavior Therapists and Cognitive Behavior Therapists treat individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. Replacing ways of living that do not work well with ways of living that work, and giving people more control over their lives, are common goals of behavior and cognitive behavior therapy.

HOW TO GET HELP: If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet. You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner. It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist. It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees. They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association. Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state. You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations. You may, of course, visit our website ( and click on "Find a CBT Therapist"

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are very common disorders, affecting as many as 1 in 6 new mothers. Very severe forms of postpartum depression and anxiety can make the experience of motherhood nearly intolerable, and a small percentage of women may even experience delusions or hallucinations (known as postpartum psychosis). Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders can be effectively treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication.


Postpartum depression can occur any time within 12 months of giving birth. Typical symptoms might include feeling overwhelmed, feeling guilty, not feeling bonded with your baby, poor appetite, sleep problems, irritability, lack of interest in your baby, sadness and crying, feelings of numbness or emptiness, and/or possible thoughts of harming yourself or escaping. Not all women with postpartum depression experience all of these symptoms.

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety can include racing thoughts and distractibility, worry that is difficult to stop, obsessions (intrusive thoughts, especially thoughts that you might harm your baby), trouble sleeping, feeling pressured to be doing something all the time, a sense of dread, and/or worrying that you have “gone crazy.” You may experience these symptoms almost all the time, or only during some parts of the day or night.

Many women experience both postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. It is not yet clear why some women have these symptoms and others do not, but risk factors include:

  • A history of depression or anxiety (particularly a past episode of postpartum depression and/or anxiety)
  • Childhood trauma
  • Treatment for infertility
  • Young age at motherhood
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Poverty/Low income
  • Unplanned pregnancy
Generally, if the symptoms have lasted for more than two weeks and they start to interfere in any aspect of your life, you may be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very effective treatment for postpartum depression and anxiety. Treatment is often short-term (12-16 sessions) and is focused on identifying unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You can learn to avoid “triggers” for depression or anxiety and identify “automatic” negative thoughts. You will also learn different ways of thinking and reacting to situations that trigger depression and/or anxiety.

Therapists teach behavioral activation, which involves scheduling activities, such as exercise, social activities, or even just “getting out of the house,” that make you happy, as well as looking for ways to help you get additional support to help with your baby or household duties. CBT might also involve sessions with your partner or spouse and finding ways of improving communication so that you can ask for help when you need it.

One particular kind of postpartum anxiety is called postpartum obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD). Women with postpartum OCD have intrusive, unwanted, and disturbing thoughts or images. They may be thoughts or disturbing images about something bad happening to you, your baby, or your loved ones; some mothers even have thoughts about harming their baby if left alone with their baby. Because of the fear created by these thoughts, you may feel driven to constantly check on your baby to make sure he or she is breathing or safe, or you may feel anxious and avoid being alone with your baby. If you are having any of these symptoms, a CBT therapist can help you overcome them. Research has shown that women with perinatal depression are significantly more likely to see a reduction in depressive symptoms if they are in CBT versus a control condition and they are also significantly less likely to have another depressive episode relative to women in a control condition.

There are other treatments for postpartum depression and anxiety, as well. Support groups (either online or in person), or treatment with antidepressant medication may also be a helpful option for some new mothers. There are a number of medications that are safe for women who are breastfeeding. About one-third of mothers using CBT overcome postpartum anxiety and depression.

Additional Resources

  • includes a list of support groups and helpful information about screening and treatment
  • includes various tools for mothers, as well as a link to an online support group and offers training and certification for clinicians


For more information or to find a therapist:

Please feel free to photocopy or reproduce this fact sheet, noting that this fact sheet was writen and produced by ABCT. You may also link directly to our site and/or to the page from which you took this fact sheet



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Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
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