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Welcome to CombatCounselor Chronicle, an E-zine dedicated to giving you the most current, pertinent information on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based CBT available.

Chris Sorrentino, a.k.a CombatCounselor, is a leader and expert in cognitive behavioral therapy. He combines 30 years of experience in psychology with the discipline from having served as a U.S. Air Force officer for 20 years, 4 of those in combat zones, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2005.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Checklist for Hiring a True Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT)

As executive director of Kansas City Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (KCCBT) and an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), I receive many calls from people looking specifically for a therapist specializing in CBT. Because I rarely have any openings, I make a lot of referrals. Unfortunately, there ARE FEW TRUE COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPISTS, at least in my area.

When I say "TRUE COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPIST", I mean somebody who is an expert in CBT (which requires advanced knowledge of learning theory; e.g. classical and operant conditioning, relational frame theory, etc.) and practices using "primarily" cognitive and/or behavioral techniques. Easier said than done!

Many therapists call themselves "COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL" even though they may know little, if anything, about CBT. Why? Because most therapists (licensed professional counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists) depend on health insurance as reimbursement for their services AND insurance companies ONLY reimburse for empirically supported treatments (EST), with CBT being the primary (sometimes only) EST for the vast majority of anxiety and mood disorders (which make up the vast majority of disorders being treated).

Many of my clinical colleagues will probably not be happy with what I'm telling you and to them, as the character Gilly on Saturday Night Live would say: "uh huh"..."sorry!". We ALL owe it to our clients to be honest and provide the MOST EFFECTIVE TREATMENT available for our client's particular condition, which in many cases means CBT (the most researched and scientifically proven treatments available for many, not all, conditions).

When looking for a cognitive behavioral therapist, I suggest doing an advanced search on Psychology Today's Therapist Finder, screening for therapists in your zip code specializing in CBT for YOUR CONDITION. Once you have narrowed the list, start calling them and ask the following questions:

1. Are you a cognitive behavioral therapist and, if so, what technique(s) do you use for people with my kind of problem?

Answer: Yes. Answers could include exposure, exposure and response prevention (OCD), prolonged exposure (PTSD), activity scheduling (depression), cognitive restructuring, behavioral activation or rehearsal, and contingency management among others. Exposure, in vivo, imaginal, and prolonged, just to name a few is the treatment of choice for most anxiety-based disorders (e.g. generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, agoraphobia, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, simple phobias)

2. Which CBT therapy do you adhere to and who is the person (theorist) influencing your practice the most?

Answers: Cognitive Therapy (Primary Theorists: Beck, Ellis); Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Stress Inoculation Training (Primary Theorists: Meichenbaum); Acceptance and Commitment Therapy - ACT (Primary Theorists: Hayes, Strosahl, Blackledge); Dialectical Behavior Therapy - DBT (Primary Theorists: Linehan); Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy - MBCT (Primary Theorists: Williams, Teasdale, and Segal); Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction - MBSR (Kabat-Zinn)

3. Estimate the percentage of techniques you use in therapy that are STRICTLY cognitive behavioral.

Answer: AT LEAST 60 - 70% is acceptable, preferably more.

4. Can you tell me the difference between positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment?

Answer: Positive reinforcement involves increasing the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future by rewarding the organism immediately following the desired behavior. Negative reinforcement involves increasing the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future by removing an aversive stimulus immediately following the desired behavior. Punishment involves introducing an aversive stimulus immediately following a behavior you are trying to eliminate and may work for a short time, but research indicates that it is ineffective in the long-term for changing behavior.
If they cannot answer this question, they know little if anything about the most important aspects of CBT and should probably be eliminated).

5. Do you offer FREE initial consultations (preferably in person, over the phone by exception)?

Answer: Yes. In-office consultations are preferred. If a therapist wants to charge you, keep looking unless they are obviously VERY SKILLED in CBT and you have no alternatives.

6. Are you licensed in your state (LPC, LCSW, licensed psychologist/psychiatrist, etc) AND certified (by whom)? What is your license/certification number?

Answer: Yes. Not all licensed therapists are also certified by a recognized national certifying body (requires passing a national exam and paying annual dues), but those who are indicates additional credibility and professionalism. Ask for the certifying body and certification number, then look up the licensing and certifying organizations on the internet and check to see if they actually exist, are current, and free of complaints or violations.

Unfortunately, there are many unqualified, unlicensed people out there calling themselves therapists, life/executive coaches, spiritual healers, etc. and probably do not have the necessary education, experience, licensing, and certification required to help you solve problems of the mind. Read my post "Client Beware" for more details about therapist credentials and picking a therapist.

In conclusion, CBT is one of the most researched, proven, effective, time-limited and cost effective (many problems can be treated effectively in 3 months or less - one one-hour session per week)  therapies available today and the treatment of choice for many psychological problems. So if you are looking specifically for a therapist specializing in CBT, as many educated consumers are, the preceding information should be helpful.

With that said, there are many reasons why CBT may not be appropriate for you or your particular problems. There are many good therapies and therapists available, so I recommend you do some research and know what you are looking for when selecting a therapist. In any event, to reinforce the importance of my earlier point, MAKE SURE THEY ARE LICENSED (PSYCHOTHERAPIST) IN YOUR STATE if nothing else.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional assistance finding the right therapist for you. GOOD LUCK!


  1. Hello! I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about cognitive behavioral therapy. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about cognitive behavioral therapy. Keep it up! This is a good read.
    There are different protocols for delivering cognitive behavioral therapy, with important similarities among them. Use of the term CBT may refer to different interventions, including "self-instructions (e.g. distraction, imagery, motivational self-talk), relaxation and/or biofeedback, development of adaptive coping strategies (e.g. minimizing negative or self-defeating thoughts), changing maladaptive beliefs about pain, and goal setting".[5] Treatment is sometimes manualized, with brief, direct, and time-limited treatments for individual psychological disorders that are specific technique-driven. CBT is used in both individual and group settings, and the techniques are often adapted for self-help applications. Some clinicians and researchers are cognitively oriented (e.g. cognitive restructuring), while others are more behaviorally oriented (e.g. in vivo exposure therapy). Interventions such as imaginal exposure therapy combine both approaches.
    Always believe in the power of positive thinking.

    cognitive behavioral therapy massachusetts

    1. Mark,

      Thank you for your comments! Excellent feedback and I appreciate the succinct and accurate additional information on CBT. Unfortunately, there are not as many cognitive behavioral therapists out there as claim to be, so it is refreshing to hear from one that is.

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      Happy Holidays!


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