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Exploring the Differences Between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy

Knowing the difference between cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy is important for figuring out what treatment works best for your needs.

Table of Contents

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: Overview

Mental health treatments help people cope with and overcome mental health challenges. These treatments encompass various approaches aimed at improving emotional well-being and mental health. Read on to learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy and how they can help you.

cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common therapeutic approach. It focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.1

It aims to help people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. These often contribute to their distress or difficulties.

What Happens During CBT Sessions?

During CBT sessions, a therapist works with the patient to identify thoughts that may influence their actions. By examining these thoughts, patients can develop more balanced perspectives. They also learn practical strategies and skills to replace maladaptive behaviors.

CBT is a time-limited and goal-oriented therapy that involves structured sessions. It can be effective in treating various mental health conditions. CBT empowers people to become active participants in their own healing process.2

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a broad term. It refers to a range of therapeutic approaches that are aimed at helping individuals improve their well-being. It involves working to:3
  • Address psychological issues
  • Reduce distress
  • Promote growth

How Does Psychotherapy Work?

Psychotherapy provides a space for patients to explore their thoughts and behaviors.4
Through different techniques, the therapist helps clients make positive changes in their lives. There are various types of psychotherapy. CBT is one example. Other examples include:
  • Psychodynamic therapy
    • Humanistic therapy
  • Family therapy

The specific approach used depends on the client’s needs and the therapist’s expertise.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: What’s the Difference?

There are multiple aspects to consider when thinking about cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy. CBT and psychotherapy are related but offer distinct approaches to therapy.

CBT Is More Specific

CBT is a specific type of therapy. It falls under the broader category of psychotherapy. It focuses on the connection between thoughts and behaviors. It is effective in treating various mental health conditions.

Psychotherapy Is All-Encompassing

Psychotherapy is a broader term. It encompasses a range of therapeutic approaches beyond CBT. It refers to the general practice of helping individuals improve mental well-being.

In all, CBT is a specific type of psychotherapy that is often more structured and time-limited. Psychotherapy is a broader term encompassing various therapeutic approaches.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: Approaches

One of the most notable ways that these two treatments differ is in their approaches. Here are the differences between cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy’s approaches.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy encompasses several approaches to help people address negative thoughts. Here are some common approaches within CBT:

Cognitive Restructuring

This approach involves identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced ones. It helps patients recognize cognitive distortions and develop healthier thinking patterns.

Behavioral Activation

This approach focuses on increasing engagement in positive activities to counteract negative behaviors. This encourages patients to take part in fulfilling activities and helps improve well-being.

Exposure Therapy

This approach is often used to treat anxiety disorders and phobias. It involves exposing patients to feared situations in a controlled environment. This helps them reduce their anxiety over time.

Skills Training

CBT involves teaching people specific skills to manage emotions and cope with stress. These skills can include:
  • Relaxation techniques
    • Assertiveness training
  • Effective stress management strategies

Homework and Self-Monitoring

CBT often incorporates assignments and self-monitoring tasks. These reinforce therapeutic progress and encourage people to practice new skills.

Important Note About Therapists

It’s important to note that different therapists may emphasize different techniques. CBT is often tailored to each person’s unique circumstances. Treatments will vary based on the individual’s needs and the specific goals of therapy.


Psychotherapy encompasses a range of approaches and techniques. The therapist may use these to address various mental health concerns. Here are some common psychotherapy approaches.

Psychodynamic Therapy

This approach focuses on the unconscious processes and conflicts that contribute to difficulties. It emphasizes the client-therapist relationship and aims to increase self-awareness.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic approaches include those such as person-centered therapy. They emphasize the client’s inherent capacity for growth and self-actualization. These therapies provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy examines how thoughts and beliefs influence emotions and behaviors. Therapists using this approach help clients identify and challenge negative thinking patterns.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapies focus on changing behaviors and learning skills to reduce psychological distress. Some of the techniques include:
  • Exposure therapy
    • Systematic desensitization
  • Behavior modification strategies

Family Therapy

Family therapy involves working with patients and their families. The focus is to address relational dynamics and improve communication. It aims to foster healthy family functioning and promote understanding and support. 

Integrative Therapy

Some therapists adopt an integrative approach. This draws from many modalities to tailor treatment to the individual’s specific needs. This may involve combining techniques from different approaches.

Important Note About These Approaches

It’s important to note that these approaches are not mutually exclusive. Therapists often integrate different techniques based on the individual’s needs and treatment goals. This is the same regardless of whether cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy is used.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: Theory

These approaches aren’t the only way these two forms of treatment vary. Although they are similar, they also have different theories of practice. This includes the importance of emotions and certain techniques. 

Here are ways cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy differ based on theory:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s Theories

The theory of CBT focuses on the connection of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT states that negative thoughts can lead to negative or unhealthy behaviors. This theory highlights that changing these negative behaviors can result in positive changes. 

CBT draws upon two main theoretical frameworks:

Cognitive Theory

This component of CBT is rooted in cognitive psychology. This suggests that our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and the world play a role in daily life. This includes working to influence our emotions and behaviors.

Behavioral Theory

The behavioral component of CBT is based on the principles of behaviorism. It highlights the role of learned behaviors in shaping our emotional experiences.

The goal of CBT is to empower people to become their own therapists. This happens by equipping them with practical tools and skills. These can get used long after the therapy sessions have ended.


Psychotherapy encompasses various theoretical frameworks that guide the understanding and practice of therapy. Below are a few prominent psychotherapy theories.

Psychodynamic Theory

Psychodynamic therapy has influences from the work of Sigmund Freud. It emphasizes the unconscious processes and experiences that shape an individual’s thoughts.

Humanistic Theory

Carl Rogers developed many different types of humanistic therapies. This includes person-centered therapy. These focus on the individual’s inherent drive for self-actualization and personal growth.

Cognitive Theory

Cognitive therapy’s influenced by cognitive psychology. It examines how our thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations shape our emotions and behaviors. It emphasizes identifying and challenging negative or distorted thinking patterns.

Behavioral Theory

Behavioral therapies focus on observable behaviors and how they’re influenced by learning. Techniques such as classical and operant conditioning work to change maladaptive behaviors. They also help reinforce positive ones. 

Family Systems Theory

Family therapy is based on the idea that people are influenced by their family systems. This includes the dynamics within them.

It’s important to note that these theories often intersect and overlap. Therapists may integrate principles from many approaches. This is based on the unique needs of their clients. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: What’s Treated?

Cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy can treat a wide range of conditions. However, when it comes to cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy, they’re not always equal. Instead, they may differ in their specific application and focus.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effectiveness

CBT is particularly effective in addressing:
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders

Psychotherapy Effectiveness

Psychotherapy can get applied to a wide range of mental health concerns, including:
  • Mood disorders
    • Personality disorders
  • Trauma and abuse
  • Relationship issues
    • Adjustment difficulties

Important Note About Each Therapy’s Effectiveness

Both therapies can get adapted to address specific concerns. The choice of approach depends on the individual’s needs and other factors. This is important when considering cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: Role of Thoughts and Behaviors

Both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy recognize the role of thoughts and behaviors. However, they differ in how they approach and address these elements.

CBT Approach to Thoughts and Behaviors

In CBT, there is a strong emphasis on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It posits that thoughts influence emotions and behaviors. CBT focuses on identifying and challenging negative thoughts that contribute to psychological distress.

Psychotherapy Approach to Thoughts and Behaviors

Psychotherapy also acknowledges the influence of thoughts and behaviors, but it takes a broader approach. Psychotherapy recognizes that thoughts and behaviors get shaped by many factors. These include early life experiences, relationships, and unconscious processes. 


All in all, CBT targets thoughts and behaviors as the primary focus of intervention. It aims to change negative thinking patterns and promote adaptive behaviors. 

Psychotherapy takes a more holistic approach. It explores the underlying roots and the broader context in which they exist. Both cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy can help people achieve greater well-being. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy: Deciding Which Is Best

Deciding between cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy depends on various factors. This includes individual needs, preferences, and the nature of the presenting concerns. 

Specific Concerns

CBT is often structured and goal-oriented. This makes it effective for treating conditions such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. If the primary concern aligns with the targeted focus of CBT, it may be a suitable choice.

In contrast, the issues may be more complex, deep-rooted, or involve relational dynamics. Because of this, psychotherapy’s broader and exploratory approach may be more beneficial.

Treatment Goals

One way to decide between cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy is your goals. Each therapy is better suited for certain treatment outcomes. For cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy, it is important to consider these goals.

When CBT May Be a Better Option

Your focus for treatment may include:
  • Symptom reduction
    • Developing practical skills
  • Addressing specific problematic thoughts or behaviors

In this case, CBT may be the preferred option.

When Psychotherapy May Be a Better Option

Your goals may include:
  • Increasing self-awareness
    • Understanding underlying patterns
  • Promoting personal growth

This means that psychotherapy may be a better fit.

Therapeutic Relationship

Both CBT and psychotherapy rely on a strong therapeutic relationship. However, for cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy, the emphasis may differ.

CBT tends to have a collaborative and directive approach. Here, the therapist will provide structured techniques and exercises. 

Psychotherapy often places greater importance on the quality of the therapeutic relationship. It provides a supportive space for exploration and self-discovery. Consider which therapeutic style feels more comfortable and suitable for your needs.

Treatment Duration

CBT is often time-limited. It focuses on achieving specific goals within a shorter period. It often involves a structured treatment plan and homework assignments. 

Psychotherapy can be more open-ended, allowing for ongoing exploration and personal growth.

If you prefer a shorter-term, goal-oriented approach, CBT may be better. For a more extended and in-depth therapeutic process, psychotherapy may be ideal.

Therapist's Expertise

Assess the therapist’s training and expertise in the specific approach. A qualified CBT therapist will have specialized training in CBT techniques and interventions. In contrast, a psychotherapist may have training in various theoretical orientations.

Consider whether the therapist’s expertise aligns with the approach you feel would be most helpful.

Learn More About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Psychotherapy with Boardwalk Recovery

Are you struggling with mental health concerns or seeking personal growth? Discover the transformative power of therapy with Boardwalk Recovery.

About Boardwalk Recovery

Our expert therapists offer both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy services. Each therapy option is tailored to your unique needs. Whether you seek symptom relief or a deeper exploration of your thoughts, our team is here to support you.

Contact Boardwalk Recovery Today

Take the first step towards positive change. Schedule your therapy session with Boardwalk Recovery today. Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy vs psychotherapy. Your journey to greater well-being starts here. We always love what you can become, not what you are.
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