What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment shown to be effective for chronic pain and illness, injury (e.g. concussion), anxiety, depression, sleep, and other issues. It is a practical technique that teaches coping skills, or new and more effective ways of dealing with emotional and physical pain. 


CBT targets both sides of pain and illness by identifying and resolving stressors that trigger flare-ups, and by teaching coping skills to manage pain after it starts.


CBT focuses on the relationship between thoughts (what's going on in our heads), feelings (emotions and physical sensations), and behaviors (how we act). For example, the thought, "I'm broken, I'll never get better" might trigger feelings of sadness, hopelessness and fear. Emotions also manifest physically: for example, stomach "butterflies" and tension headaches are physical manifestations of stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety, natural consequences of being in pain or having an illness/injury, subsequently trigger and exacerbate underlying medical conditions. These thoughts, negative emotions, and physical feelings then lead to unhealthy behaviors like staying in bed, missing school and isolating from friends - which ultimately make teens feel worse. 

Research shows that the experience of pain is mediated by multiple factors, including stress, anxiety, mood, and attention. High stress, high anxiety, low mood, and focusing on pain (e.g. staying home from school) actually make pain physically feel worse. The converse is also true: being relaxed, happy and distracted can help pain physically feel less bad.


CBT helps challenge and change negative self-talk, addresses negative emotions like anxiety, fear and sadness, teaches stress management, and replaces unhealthy coping behaviors with healthier ones. CBT helps teens develop effective strategies to cope with pain and learn how to take control when pain or illness seems to be in charge. CBT also addresses activity reduction - a common result of pain and illness - and helps your child learn to reclaim her life, so that she can return to school and the activities she loves.