Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Definition and Guide

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment where one’s thinking patterns require change. The CBT principles are based on understanding that psychological issues are due to unhelpful ways of thinking, learned patterns of negative behavior, and can be resolved with key coping strategies. 

CBT techniques involve facing your fears instead of running away from them. If one has social anxiety, CBT techniques also include role-playing as a way to address better ways to interact with others.

Keep reading to learn how cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety can help athletes who are struggling with sports performance worries. Athletes with anxiety can gain the mental strength they need to succeed in sports with the help of specific CBT techniques.

What Is the Purpose of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive thinking exercises using CBT principles can help treat a wide variety of mental and emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. Some other mental health conditions that CBT techniques can treat include the following.

  1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  2. Social phobia
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  4. Insomnia
  5. Hypochondria
  6. Substance misuse
  7. Low self-esteem
  8. Irrational fears
  9. Eating disorders

Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises for anxiety often include relaxed breathing strategies, journaling, progressive muscle relaxation, and cognitive restructuring. 

Some other CBT therapy techniques for anxiety include the following items.

  1. Identifying and addressing harmful thoughts
  2. Exposure and response prevention
  3. Exposure to bodily sensations
  4. Imagining worst-case scenarios and ways to manage them

ABC functional analysis is another strategy that can help you learn what leads to certain behaviors and what consequences occur from your behaviors.

How to Use CBT for Therapy of Athletes?

Sports psychology often includes the use of CBT sports exercises. Research shows that athletes can enhance their sports performance by improving their stress management. 

A study from Leeds Beckett University shows that when four hockey players used CBT sports anxiety treatment called cognitive restructuring over nine months, gained more positive emotions. These athletes changed their thought patterns so that threats became challenges instead. 

Using CBT cognitive restructuring exercises with a situation that causes athlete stress becomes an effective therapy because the athlete can change his or her thought patterns. As such, a particular situation will no longer cause anxiety. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy for athletes is all about restructuring thought patterns and creating alternative responses or coping strategies to reduce anxiety. This practice of sports psychology continues to be implemented still today.

Can CBT Treat Performance Anxiety?

Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises for anxiety are great strategies for athletes to use. Furthermore, cognitive behavioral therapy is useful for treating sports performance anxiety. Social anxiety is tied into a fear of performance, and one study found that CBT used in treating social anxiety disorder had a medium effect.

Some typical cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for performance anxiety include the following.

  1. Reducing anticipation
  2. Familiarizing with the environment around you
  3. Starting simply
  4. Normalizing your nerves and fears
  5. Taking control of a situation

What Are the Risks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The typical risks of cognitive behavioral therapy involve feeling uncomfortable and getting deeper into your negative thoughts or feelings. Furthermore, the risks of CBT anxiety exercises include the following.

  1. The emotional discomfort and painful thoughts or experiences
  2. Potential for crying and feeling upset
  3. Possibility of getting angry during a CBT session
  4. Feeling physically drained
  5. Feelings of temporary fear, anxiety, and stress due to exposure-based therapy

Despite these potential risks, an experienced therapist should help reduce these risks and teach you about essential coping strategies that will help you overcome anxiety and fears.

How to Start Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT techniques can help treat athletes’ anxiety effectively, but what should athletes do to get started? First, you will need to find a qualified and experienced therapist. You can first start with your primary care doctor or your health insurance plan representative. These professionals can provide you with the right therapist.

Then, you’ll need to figure out the costs through your health insurance policy. Check how many CBT sessions your insurance plan will cover. Ask your therapist about any extra fees. 

Before your first session, figure out what issues you most want to work on. Having an idea of your performance anxiety and what causes your fears ahead of time can help your therapist treat you more quickly.  

Who needs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

A variety of people with mental health conditions will need cognitive behavioral therapy including athletes or musicians with performance anxiety. 

Further, people use cognitive behavioral therapy for stress relief, which means nearly anyone can benefit from cognitive therapy techniques for anxiety. Some examples of those who need cognitive behavioral therapy include the following groups of people.

  1. Those who have marital issues or undergoing divorce
  2. People with gambling problems
  3. Those who abuse or misuse drugs or alcohol

Furthermore, children have shown promising results from CBT techniques including those with high-functioning autism. In addition, older adults with depression have found the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy far outweigh any risks and provide better results than other therapies.

What Are the Possible Outcomes of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The results and benefits of cognitive therapy are very positive. Moderate symptom reduction occurred in those with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder for 12 months after completing treatment. Positive results of CBT for athletes and anxiety include those with generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

You will learn to cope better with an anxious situation after undergoing a good number of CBT sessions. As an athlete, you’ll improve your sports game and restructure your thought process to reduce stress and ensure better performance.

In addition, CBT therapy techniques for anxiety are especially useful for overcoming fears.

What Are the Steps in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

According to one research paper published by King’s College and the University of London, the principles and steps of cognitive behavioral therapy includes the following.

  1. Identifying core beliefs
  2. Identifying dysfunctional assumptions
  3. Determining automatic negative thoughts
  4. Testing the validity of negative thoughts and dysfunctional assumptions
  5. Making any necessary revisions in response

Furthermore, the steps in CBT-based anxiety therapy techniques generally involve the following.

  1. Identifying the problematic situations a person experiences
  2. Gaining greater awareness of the emotional effect and thought patterns regarding these problems
  3. Identifying problematic and negative thinking
  4. Restructuring one’s negative thought patterns

Now that you understand the steps necessary to pursue a cognitive restructuring of your maladaptive thought patterns, you should become more comfortable with the idea of pursuing cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Long Do CBT Sessions Take?

Normally, CBT treatment involves going into the therapist’s office once a week for 30-minute to 60-minute sessions. The therapy sessions tend to last anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks. However, there is a new strategy that has become part of CBT techniques. This strategy moves much more quickly through the treatment steps.

Intensive CBT or I-CBT involves taking on much longer sessions that can be combined into one month of work, one week, or even a weekend of therapy. Sometimes, you may undergo an intensive CBT session that lasts only eight hours in total. You won’t need a secondary session.

Who Performs the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The main specialist who performs cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapist. This professional helps people manage their emotional and mental health needs. 

There are multiple different job descriptions in the healthcare industry that satisfies the role of a psychotherapist, such as psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, and clinical social workers.

Furthermore, as an athlete, you can seek out the help of a sports psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy.

What Are the Flaws of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Despite the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, there are multiple disadvantages and flaws of CBT techniques. For example, it may take plenty of work between CBT sessions to gain the best therapy outcomes, which can take up a lot of your time.

Some other flaws of CBT techniques include the following.

  1. The therapy may not be suitable for people with very complex mental health issues
  2. Children who prefer to avoid therapy may find it harder to cooperate with a counselor
  3. Due to the first steps of CBT, you can expect greater anxiety and discomfort 
  4. CBT may not address underlying issues of mental health conditions

Despite these flaws, CBT techniques have had an excellent outcome for athletes and others facing performance anxiety.

Athletic Insight

Athletic Insight Research


The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.