patient happy during cognitive behavioral therapy session

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help with Physical Illness

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective and common form of psychotherapy that counselors use to treat conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and marital dysfunction. In this type of therapy, patients explore how their feelings, thought patterns, and behaviors affect one another.

CBT has proven to be effective in treating many emotional and behavioral disorders, but what about physical illness? Some breaking research shows that CBT could be used in conjunction with other methods to treat things like diabetes, chronic pain, and insomnia. While scientists need to do more research, these early studies suggest that CBT could affect the human body in many important ways.

CBT Could Help People with Diabetes Exercise Effectively

It’s well understood that exercise is an important part of diabetes management. However, previous research had shown that many people with diabetes cite pain as the reason they do not exercise. In February 2020, the Annals of Family Medicine journal published a study that found that CBT can help these patients get regular exercise.

Study participants, all of whom had pain from diabetes, were able to exercise when CBT was included in their treatment plans. The participants who received CBT were able to exercise with less pain and more functionality than the control group. In the long-term, exercise can help people with diabetes improve blood glucose, manage weight, and balance cholesterol levels.

How CBT May Help in Pain Management

Part of what inspired researchers who conducted the diabetes study is the profound effect that CBT can have on people with chronic pain. Scientists have collected evidence for the relationship between CBT and chronic pain for several decades. Now, it is one of the frontline treatments for people with persistent pain.

While researchers are not 100% sure why CBT works so well for pain management, it’s believed that it works by changing the way patients think about pain. By helping patients tolerate pain better, CBT allows them to participate in gentle exercises like swimming and walking. In turn, the exercises can work to relieve pain.

CBT May Help Pregnant Women with Insomnia

Women who are pregnant sometimes struggle with insomnia, which can lead to a whole host of other problems. However, traditional treatments for insomnia may be unavailable to pregnant women due to possible risks to the pregnancy.

Even when doctors believe that medications can be safe, pregnant women may be hesitant to take them. A recent study shows that six weeks CBT and 20 minutes per week can not only help these women, but it could work better than medications.

Chronic Stress Symptoms and CBT

If you’re in a life-threatening and emergent situation, stress can help you stay safe. The heightened awareness that stress can bring in the short-term can help. However, when the stressors continues to plague you over a long period of time, it can lead to chronic stress. Long-term stressors include difficult jobs, troublesome relationships, and more.

Chronic stress can cause emotional and physical symptoms like:

  • Chronic pain and tension
  • Low self-worth
  • Frequent colds and similar illnesses
  • Trouble with digestion
  • Frequent headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

These chronic stress symptoms can severely impact the quality of a person’s life, but it’s not always easy or possible to eliminate the stressor without creating bigger problems in the person’s life.

A recent study suggests that CBT can help people relieve even the most severe symptoms of chronic stress. Whether CBT is delivered via telehealth or through face-to-face counseling, it appears to help significantly. In fact, patients saw improvements in 12 weeks with as little as 10 minutes of CBT per week.

As more research emerges, CBT may become a standard treatment option for people with many types of physical ailments. For now, we know that it is a powerful tool in treating emotional and behavioral disorders. Contact LifeStance Health to connect with a CBT provider near you.

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