If you recently saw your doctor and mentioned mood symptoms such as anxiety or depression, she hopefully took some blood work. Why? Conditions such as Vitamin D deficiency or trouble with your thyroid may well be the culprit. But if your labs come back normal and the doctor can’t find an obvious physical cause for your mood changes, she may recommend that you consult a therapist — specifically one who practices cognitive therapy (sometimes called cognitive behavioral therapy). Here’s why.

Cognitive therapy is one of the most scientifically researched forms of therapy and has been found effective for treating a wide range of issues, all in a reasonable amount of treatment time. Modern medical practice focuses on efficiency and results; doctors know that your time is valuable, they know what insurance companies are more inclined to cover, and they want their patients to get relief fast. For all of these reasons, your doctor may feel most comfortable endorsing cognitive therapy for your treatment.

What is cognitive therapy and why is it so effective?

The premise of cognitive therapy is that how you think about something influences how you feel, how your body responds, and how you behave. Here’s a very basic example: Take a rainy day. A landscaper may be really upset about the rain because it delays his latest project and in turn, he thinks, “My whole day is ruined. The universe is against me.” He feels stressed and begins to feel a tension headache coming on. His partner may see the rain and while he can’t work on the outdoor project either, he may think, “Too bad it rained but I can use the day to catch up on paperwork and I’ll be okay.” He is able to look at the benefits as well as the downsides, accept them, and move on. Same event, two totally different ways of processing it, two different outcomes.

Can you really change how someone thinks?

People tend to think about optimistic or pessimistic attitudes like they are a fixed part of someone’s personality and can’t be changed. Cognitive therapy challenges that notion. Your cognitive therapist can teach you effective ways to think about things in a new way, how to confront old, negative, unhelpful ways of thinking, and how to actively improve your mood. The process is collaborative and active, with a goal of teaching you how to do it all on your own. “Graduation” from therapy is always a goal; cognitive therapists are motivated to help you learn the skills, get the support you need, and help you transition out of their office and into a happier, more fulfilling life.

How can I find a cognitive therapist in my area?

You can check out the therapist finder on the website Psychology Today or the list of providers on the Academy of Cognitive Therapy website, or ask your doctor for referrals. Take a look at the provider’s website to see if they talk about their training, modality, and expertise; if they use cognitive therapy, it will most likely be mentioned.

Want to read more?

Visit The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy for more background information from one of cognitive therapy’s creators, Aaron Beck.