What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is not any one therapeutic practice, but rather a group of psychotherapy treatments with scientifically-demonstrated benefits. People with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, and intellectual impairments may have a lot to gain from pursuing this type of therapy.

Stereotypical views of psychotherapy involve dream interpretation and in-depth analysis of childhood experiences; most modern-day cognitive behavioral therapists do not actually emphasize such activities.

In many cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is a relatively short-term treatment, focused on the client gaining specific skills and learning how their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influence each other. The therapist can advise the client on points in the thought-emotion-behavior cycle where interventions may be necessary.

The following understandings are critical to cognitive behavioral therapy:

  • The therapist is an expert on psychology, but the client is an expert on him or herself.
  • The client is capable of changing his or her own thoughts and behaviors.
  • In order to succeed, the client will need to do exercises outside of therapy sessions.
  • The therapist and client will work together to define the goals of treatment, which will be focused on resolving present-day issues.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has two main components: cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy.

Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that our feelings are shaped by thoughts; emotional responses are determined by how someone interprets a situation. For example, if someone gets an ambiguous message that they interpret as angry, this will likely make them upset, even if the sender had friendly intentions. In cognitive therapy, clients can learn to understand:

  • The difference between thoughts and feelings
  • How certain thoughts may lack a rational basis
  • How thoughts may influence feelings in unhelpful ways
  • How to recognize, interrupt, and correct irrational/unhelpful thoughts

The focus of behavioral therapy is on how certain thoughts or behaviors are “rewarded,” and therefore become more common. The following is an example from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT):

Imagine being afraid to ride in an elevator. To avoid the fear and anxiety, you might eventually choose to avoid all elevators, and walk up flights of stairs instead. The extra time and energy that is needed to walk the stairs could cause you to be constantly late for work or events with friends. However, despite these consequences, the fear that comes with riding an elevator is too great to bear. Behavior therapists suggest that avoiding the elevator has been rewarded with the absence of anxiety and fear. Behavioral treatments would involve supervised and guided experience with riding elevators until the “rewards” associated with avoidance have been “un-learned,” and the negative associations you have with elevators has been “un-learned.”

In other words, behavioral therapists help their clients to prevent unhelpful “rewards” from shaping their actions and affecting their lives.

How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help People with Disabilities?

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Historically, people with developmental disabilities that affect intellectual function have been excluded from scientific research on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy, and many therapists have been unwilling to treat them. However, both of these things are changing. Mounting evidence shows that people with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities can benefit greatly from cognitive behavioral therapy. It can help to improve feelings of despair, anger, etc. Certain therapeutic practices can be modified to be more accommodating of people with intellectual impairments. Moreover, there are plenty of cognitive behavioral therapists willing to work with children who have intellectual disabilities. Some examples in Michigan can be found here

Physical Disabilities

People with physical disabilities can of course also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Like anyone else, they may suffer from anxiety, depression, anger management issues, and other problems that can be addressed in a therapeutic setting. The frustrating aspects of managing a physical disability may also increase a person’s likelihood of developing emotional or behavioral problems. For example, Jessica Grono’s recent column in Cerebral Palsy News Today explains how living with cerebral palsy has affected her emotional well being due to issues with societal acceptance and a lack of independence.

Legal Help for Birth Injuries Causing Intellectual or Physical Disability

A birth injury is any type of harm that occurs during labor and delivery, including trauma and oxygen deprivation. Birth injuries can range in severity from harmless to extremely severe. Many birth injuries result in permanent disabilities such as cerebral palsy and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which can affect the intellectual and/or physical capacities of an individual.

People with disabilities resulting from birth injuries may require cognitive behavioral therapy. This, along with other therapeutic and medical treatments, special education services, assistive technology, home/vehicle modifications, and other resources, can result in very high costs associated with having a disability. If you believe that your or your child’s disability was caused by a birth injury, you may be able to seek compensation through a medical malpractice suit.

To find out if you have a case, contact Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers to speak with one of our attorneys. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. We give personal attention to each child and family we help, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.


What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?

CBT for People with Disabilities

Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes for anxiety or depression in adults with intellectual disabilities: A review of the literature

CBT Improves Anger Management in Intellectually Disabled

Interventions to Reduce Behavioral Problems in Children With Cerebral Palsy: An RCT