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Understanding the Difference: CBT vs Talk Therapy

As it is important to understand the difference between two widely used behavioral therapies- CBT vs talk therapy, we unleash these therapies in this blog and help you understand their right use cases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 8 people globally experience a mental health disorder. Therapy proves to be a highly effective approach for addressing and managing mental health conditions along with medications. It offers invaluable guidance and support, helping individuals with the necessary tools and techniques to improve their overall well-being.

There are several types of therapies to treat mental illness. The most common therapy that is practiced is CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy) and Talk therapy. Although both are psychotherapy their approaches to improving mental health differ in their techniques and practices. Hence it is necessary to understand the difference between CBT vs Talk Therapy.

Understanding Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is also known as psychotherapy. It is a process where the individual seeks help from the therapist by sharing their experiences. The therapy is either done as individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy. Depending on how long the individual needs time to recover the therapy is either done in has short term or long term.

Counselling Directory reports that between 2021-22, there was a 21.5% rise in the number of people accessing talking therapies

Depending on the therapist and the type of therapy, talk therapy can happen in different places like an office, hospital, or even online through video or audio calls. To start, you might fill out forms or talk about yourself to give background info. Besides talking, therapists might teach ways to handle things better, like coping skills. Sometimes, there might be things to do between sessions, like writing in a journal, noticing how you think and react, or practicing the skills you learn.

What mental health conditions can talk therapy be used to treat?

Talk therapy is used to treat most mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, body dysmorphic disorder, alcoholism, addictions, insomnia, and phobias.

There are different types of talk therapy one can approach like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic therapy, Humanistic therapy, and Family therapy.

Understanding CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy)

The latest stats revealed that CBT along with guided self-help books, was said to be the most common form of therapy given (72.7%) during 2021-22.

CBT is a type of psychotherapy used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions. It works on the principle that our thoughts, actions, and behavior are interconnected. It says that the thoughts we think will affect how we feel and behave. As a result negative and unrealistic thoughts lead to distress and challenges. When a person suffers from psychological distress their perception of situations becomes distorted, as a result, they cause negative impacts around them. CBT aims to help individuals recognize negative thought patterns and harmful behaviors. Through cognitive therapy, patients are encouraged to adopt alternative thinking and behavior patterns to reduce psychological distress.

It is a structured short-term therapy that helps patients recover from negative thinking by using problem-solving strategies to deal with challenging situations.

What mental disorders can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) effectively treat?

CBT is used to treat various mental disorders like Depression, Borderline personality disorder, Anxiety disorders, Phobias, PTSD, Sleep disorders, Eating disorders, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Substance use disorders, Bipolar disorders, Schizophrenia, and Sexual disorders. It is treated by the collaborative effort of the therapist and patient. The therapist understands the negative thought patterns of the individual and develops strategies to treat them.

How does CBT differ from Talk Therapy?

1. CBT vs Talk Therapy in terms of Focus

On the other hand, CBT involves identifying the negative patterns in thoughts and behavior that are causing distress. It provides strategies to reduce and come out of the negative patterns.

Talk therapy covers a broader spectrum of therapies to help with emotions, past experiences, and relationships in how people interact with one another. There is no specific focus on treating the thought patterns and behavior of the individual.

2. CBT vs Talk Therapy in terms of Structure

CBT is a highly structured form. Based on the patient’s goals and symptoms, treatment plans are developed. These plans typically include homework to help build skills and practice them outside of therapy sessions.

Talk Therapy is less structured when compared to CBT. Sessions are more flexible, allowing participants to explore their ideas, emotions, and experiences at their own pace. While a focus may be on particular topics, the overall framework is less rigid.

3. CBT vs Talk Therapy in terms of Techniques

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) uses a range of methods, like:

  • Cognitive restructuring: Identifying and challenging distorted thinking patterns.
  • Exposure therapy: Gradually facing feared situations to reduce anxiety.
  • Behavioral activation: Engaging in activities that promote positive emotions and well-being.
  • Relaxation techniques: Learning methods to manage stress and anxiety

Different methods of talk therapy are used depending on the type of therapy being used, such as:

  • Free association: Talking freely about whatever comes to mind.
  • Dream analysis: Exploring the meaning of dreams.
  • Transference and countertransference: Examining the dynamics between therapist and client.
  • Building a therapeutic relationship: Creating a safe and supportive environment for exploration and growth.

CBT vs Talk Therapy in terms of Duration.

CBT takes a shorter duration when compared to Talk therapy. This is because they have a structured therapy. Typically CBT treatment takes a few weeks to a few months as Talk therapy is long-term, ongoing, and sometimes takes years.

CBT vs Talk Therapy in terms of Problem-solving

Both CBT and traditional talk therapy use problem-solving strategies, but their approach is different.

CBT has a structured and practical way of treating the patient. It has a step-by-step process which includes:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Identifying potential solutions
  3. Assessing the potential impact of each solution
  4. Implementing the solution
  5. Assessing the result and making changes as required

On the other hand, talk therapy includes problem-solving indirectly by helping the clients understand their negative emotions and thoughts to solve their problems. It encourages clients to explore their inner world and develop a deeper understanding of themselves, which can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving in the long run.

What is small talk therapy?

While the term “small talk therapy” isn’t widely used, it helps clients to have casual conversations with the therapist enabling them to have deeper conversations during therapy. It can also help clients relax, reconnect with their therapist, and prepare them for more difficult conversations.

Why should you choose small talk therapy?

Small talk therapy is a speech therapy that helps in informal and relaxed conversation to create a sense of rapport and comfort between the therapist and the client. This helps to build trust which is crucial for any treatment.

Small talk therapy helps to discuss the client’s daily life which slowly enables the client to reveal their feelings like anxieties, fear, or other emotions that they might otherwise struggle to express directly. This helps the therapist to identify the potential issues and direct the treatment accordingly.

Small Talk Therapy for Children

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 1 in 5 children aged 3-17 years in the United States has a mental, emotional, behavioral, or developmental disorder.

And only 14.9% of children in 2021 aged 5-17 years with a mental health disorder received any mental health treatment.

Small talk therapy is a very effective way of helping children have a supportive environment. It can be used to engage children in a variety of ways like playing games, discussing hobbies and interests, sharing stories and anecdotes, etc. Every child is different and the benefits of small talk therapy vary depending on the individual needs and personality. However having casual talk will be valuable in helping the child develop trust, express and communicate, and build self-confidence.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Is CBT therapy the same as talk therapy?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and talk therapy are two different types of psychotherapy. While talk therapy is a safe space for discussing thoughts, feelings, and emotions, CBT is a present-oriented, evidence-based psychotherapy that aims to modify negative thinking patterns and behaviors

2. What are the 5 steps of CBT?

According to NHS, problems in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) are broken down into 5 main areas.

  • Identify the problem
  • Generate a list of potential solutions
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each potential solution
  • Choose a solution to implement
  • Implement the solution

3. How is CBT different from psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a wide-ranging treatment that includes CBT and offers long-term improvements through regular sessions. CBT is a short-term form of psychotherapy.

4. Who should not use CBT?

While CBT is a highly effective therapy for many individuals, there are situations where it might not be the best fit like:

  • Severe mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe personality disorders. These conditions often require a more intensive and comprehensive treatment approach.
  • Lack of motivation or commitment: to practice new skills outside of sessions.
  • Difficulty with abstract thinking or cognitive limitations may make it difficult to grasp and apply the concepts of CBT.
  • Individuals with learning difficulties or cognitive impairments may find it challenging to understand and implement the complex techniques involved in CBT.
  • CBT can be effective for trauma, some individuals may find the exposure-based techniques in CBT too triggering or overwhelming.
  • CBT may not be effective for individuals actively using substances or struggling with addiction.


In conclusion, deciding between CBT vs Talk therapy depends on the individual needs and preferences. Here are some of the factors you can consider before deciding on the treatment.

Consider the specific goals:

  • CBT: Ideal for addressing specific issues like anxiety, depression, phobias, and OCD.
  • Talk therapy: Beneficial for exploring deeper emotional issues, understanding the roots of problems, and fostering self-awareness.

Think about your preferences:

  • CBT: More structured and goal-oriented, with clear expectations and homework assignments.
  • Talk therapy: More open-ended and flexible, allowing for deeper exploration and self-discovery.

The severity of your symptoms:

CBT may be more effective for treating severe symptoms, while talk therapy might be suitable for milder conditions.

Cost of therapy:

CBT might be slightly more expensive than talk therapy due to its shorter duration and intensive nature.

Consider the availability of therapists specializing in each approach in your locality. Consult and discuss your needs and preferences with a therapist to determine the most suitable approach for you.

Our comprehensive treatment approach at Relevance Recovery takes into account the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs of the patient to heal them as a whole. Since we think that everyone should have access to high-quality care, HealingUS Centers constantly looks for and removes structural obstacles that keep underprivileged groups from receiving care. We invite you to accompany us on your road to recovery.





CBT vs. DBT | Skyland Trail

New statistics released on talking therapies in England – NHS Digital


Mental disorders (who. int)



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