Psychotherapy vs. CBT: What's the Difference?

Riley Hurst Brubaker

How to know the difference between psychotherapy and CBT and figure out which one works best for you.

Psychotherapy versus cognitive behavioral therapy…what’s the difference? While these two types of therapy are both talk based therapies and many practitioners are trained in both psychotherapy and CBT, there are a few differences between them that are important to know as you research and decide on a therapist.

Finding a good therapist and a therapeutic practice that works best for you is integral in having a good and helpful therapy experience. In this article we will break down everything you need to know about psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Keep reading to find out:

  • What psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are
  • What psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have in common
  • The differences between psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • How to decide what is best for you!

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy focuses on healing past psychological wounds. 

Psychotherapy is a broad type of therapy that may encompass or involve cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment. Some common types of psychotherapy include:

  • Compassion focused therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy

Psychotherapy focuses on how early life events and experiences impact your current behavior, emotional responses, and life experience. It covers every aspect of life and can be used to focus on relationship difficulties, self-esteem issues, and work-life balance. 

Three of the main goals surrounding psychotherapy and psychodynamic therapy are:

  • Reshaping your understanding of yourself
  • Healing emotional or psychological wounds
  • Changing unhealthy patterns and behavior

Psychotherapy is generally a long-term therapy lasting many months or sometimes years. While there are types of psychotherapy designed for shorter periods of time, traditional psychotherapy varies in length depending on the issues being addressed in sessions. 

Psychotherapy can be used by anyone and is often used by individuals who wish to improve themselves or their lives or learn more about themselves. However it is also used to help with mental health disorders, commonly used for disorders such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
Psychotherapy and CBT are both talk therapies.
Both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are talk therapies.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is about finding practical solutions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, often referred to as CBT, is another common form of therapy that is beneficial to all, but often especially helpful for individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression. 

Like psychotherapy, there are many different types of therapies that fall under the category of cognitive behavioral therapy. Some CBT therapies, such as ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) which is commonly used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, are more commonly used for individuals with specific mental health issues. 

Some commonly used types of cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) - commonly used for high-risk cases to help clients live more in the present moment.
  • Mindfulness-based therapy - combines traditional CBT with mindfulness and meditative practices. 
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy - helps clients accept their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting them or feeling shame or guilt. Often combined with mindfulness practices. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on practical approaches to change patterns, thought patterns, and behaviors. It is more focused on changing thinking patterns and behavior and often involves homework or out-of-session work for clients to do. Some of the goals of cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Developing an understanding of the behavior of others
  • Learning to recognize distorted thinking and approach it with more a more logical perspective
  • Facing fears instead of ignoring or avoiding them
  • Learning to calm the body and mind

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to treat a variety of mental health issues. The most common disorders that CBT is used to help with are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia

What are the similarities?

Psychotherapy and CBT have many overlapping characteristics.

In many ways psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are very similar. In fact, some practitioners may incorporate both into their treatment plans so as to give patients the best experience possible. 

Similarities between cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy include:

  • They are both talk therapies
  • Both are focused on changing thought patterns or behaviors in some way
  • Both are used to treat mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
talk therapies like psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can be very beneficial.
Psychotherapy looks more at a person’s past while Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on the present.

What are the differences?

Psychotherapy may dive into the past, but CBT focuses on the present.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy, which is partially why the two have multiple similarities. However, the large ways in which they differ are in what each type of therapy focuses on. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing unhealthy thinking patterns and developing tools to cope with difficult feelings or behaviors. Essentially, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches the client how to become their own therapist. This is why cognitive therapy tends to be a short-term form of therapy compared to longer-form psychotherapy. 

Psychotherapy works to reduce or even eliminate negative behaviors by allowing a client to process and heal psychological or emotional wounds that they may not have realized were there. Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy, which doesn’t do a lot of analysis of an individual’s past, psychotherapy does look at the individual's past experiences and how those experiences may have shaped their present reality. 

Deciding which is best for you.

Whether you are going to therapy for a brief period of time to process a difficult time in your life, going to learn more about yourself and change some patterns of behavior that have made your life difficult, or are pursuing therapy for a diagnosed mental illness, it is good to make sure you find a therapeutic practice that works best for you. 

Researching therapists and therapeutic practices is a great way to learn more about different types of therapy. If there’s a therapy practice that interests you but you would like to learn a little more about what certain therapies entail, don’t hesitate to do research or contact the therapy office to learn more about the services provided. 

Therapy is something that can benefit everyone. Even learning stuff on your own can help to improve your life in major ways. Whether you find a therapist who specializes in psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy or find another therapeutic practice that is more helpful for you, figuring out what works for you is an important step in starting your therapy journey. 

our insights

Related Articles

(123) 456-7890
Schedule Appointment