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Cognitive Analytic Therapy vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy : An In-depth Comparison & Guide

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two widely recognized and evidence-based therapeutic approaches that share some similarities while differing significantly in their underlying principles and techniques. Both CAT and CBT are goal-oriented therapies focused on understanding and addressing emotional and behavioral challenges. However, they diverge in their conceptual frameworks and therapeutic strategies. While CBT emphasizes the modification of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors through structured interventions, CAT takes a more relational and integrative approach. Let us take a look at the various differences and similarities between these two therapy techniques as we shed light on Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Definitions

What is Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)?  

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) is a form of psychotherapy that blends elements of cognitive and analytic approaches to help individuals understand and address their emotional and interpersonal difficulties. Developed by psychiatrist Anthony Ryle in the 1980s, CAT is based on the idea that early life experiences and relationships contribute to the development of specific patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. These patterns, referred to as “reciprocal role procedures,” can become deeply ingrained and lead to various psychological challenges in adulthood.(1)

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used and evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It aims to help individuals understand how their thought patterns influence their feelings and actions, and how these patterns can contribute to emotional distress and maladaptive behaviors.(2)

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Major Similarities & Differences

Major Similarities

Some of the major similarities between both these therapy techniques include:

  1. Evidence-Based Approaches: Both CAT and CBT have substantial empirical support, with numerous research studies demonstrating their effectiveness in treating various mental health conditions.(3)
  2. Structured and Time-Limited: Both therapies typically involve a structured and time-limited treatment plan. The number of sessions is usually predetermined, and therapy is focused on achieving specific treatment goals within a defined timeframe.(4)
  3. Collaborative Therapeutic Relationship: Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) emphasize a collaborative working alliance between the therapist and the client. Both therapies value the active participation of the client in setting treatment goals and developing strategies for change.
  4. Practical and Goal-Oriented: Both CAT and CBT are practical and goal-oriented approaches. They emphasize helping clients acquire concrete skills and coping strategies to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively.(56)
  5. Focus on the Present: While CAT explores past experiences and their influence on current patterns, both therapies primarily concentrate on the present and how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact in the here and now.

Major Differences

Some of the main differences between cognitive analytic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are as follows:

  1. Theoretical Orientation:

  • CAT: Integrates cognitive and psychoanalytic principles, examining early life experiences and interpersonal patterns that influence present behavior and emotional responses.
  • CBT: Grounded in cognitive theory and behavioral principles, focusing on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  1. Nature of Change:

  • CAT: Seeks to bring about change by fostering insight into the origins of maladaptive patterns and encouraging clients to develop new, healthier ways of relating and coping.
  • CBT: Aims to modify maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors directly by challenging and restructuring cognitive distortions and implementing behavior change techniques.
  1. Visualization Techniques:

  • CAT: Uses “reciprocal role diagrams” to visually represent the client’s patterns of behavior and thinking, helping to identify unhelpful patterns in relationships and behaviors.(7)
  • CBT: May employ cognitive restructuring techniques, such as thought records or cognitive distortions worksheets, to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more balanced perspectives.
  1. Scope of Application:

  1. Therapeutic Focus:

  • CAT: Focuses on understanding the client’s relational patterns and exploring how these patterns contribute to emotional distress and interpersonal difficulties.
  • CBT: Concentrates on identifying and modifying cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors that maintain psychological symptoms and distress.

There is no doubt that both Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are evidence-based therapies with a collaborative approach and a focus on practical strategies for change. However, they differ in their theoretical foundations, visualization techniques, and therapeutic focus, making each approach suitable for addressing distinct psychological issues and client needs. The choice between CAT and CBT depends on the nature of the individual’s concerns and therapeutic goals, as well as the preferences and responsiveness of the client to each approach.

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Stages of Therapy

Stages of Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) typically involves three main stages in the therapeutic process, including:(8)

  1. Reformulation: The first stage of CAT is the reformulation phase. During this stage, the therapist and the client work together to build a collaborative and empathetic therapeutic relationship. The therapist conducts a comprehensive assessment to understand the client’s current difficulties, including their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relational patterns. The therapist uses the information to develop a “reciprocal role diagram” to help the patient gain insight into how past experiences and relationships.
  2. Recognition and Understanding: In the second stage, the therapist helps the client recognize how their past experiences have influenced the development of specific patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The emphasis is on fostering insight into how these patterns, known as “reciprocal role procedures,” were adaptive coping mechanisms in the past but may no longer serve the client well in their current life.
  3. Revision and Change: The third stage is focused on implementing positive changes in the client’s life. The therapist and client work collaboratively to identify alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that promote emotional well-being and more adaptive interpersonal interactions.

Stages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) typically involves several stages in the therapeutic process. While the exact number of stages and their specific order may vary depending on the therapist’s approach and the client’s needs, the following are common stages in CBT:(9)

  1. Assessment and Goal Setting: In the initial stage, the therapist conducts a thorough assessment of the client’s current concerns, symptoms, and life circumstances. They work collaboratively with the client to identify specific treatment goals.
  2. Psychoeducation: This stage involves providing the client with psychoeducation about CBT principles and the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Patients learn how negative thought patterns can influence their feelings and actions.
  3. Identifying Thoughts and Beliefs: In this stage, the client learns to identify their automatic thoughts and core beliefs.
  4. Challenging Cognitive Distortions: Clients work on recognizing and challenging cognitive distortions, which are biased or irrational thinking patterns that contribute to negative emotions.
  5. Behavioral Techniques: This stage focuses on implementing behavioral techniques to address specific issues. Behavioral techniques may include exposure therapy for phobias or anxiety disorders, behavioral activation for depression, etc.
  6. Cognitive Restructuring: Clients learn to restructure their negative or unhelpful thoughts into more adaptive and constructive ones.
  7. Skill-Building and Coping Strategies: Throughout the therapy process, clients acquire practical coping strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges effectively. These may include relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, assertiveness training, and mindfulness practices.
  8. Relapse Prevention: Towards the end of therapy, the focus shifts to relapse prevention. Clients learn to identify potential triggers and early warning signs of distress and develop strategies to maintain progress and prevent relapse after therapy.

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Conclusion

It is safe to say that Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are both evidence-based approaches with distinct theoretical foundations and techniques. While both share similarities, CAT emphasizes exploring past experiences and interpersonal patterns, fostering insight and understanding. In contrast, CBT focuses on challenging negative thoughts and behaviors directly, promoting practical coping strategies. The choice between CAT and CBT depends on individual needs and preferences, with both therapies offering effective solutions for diverse mental health challenges.


  1. Denman, C., 2001. Cognitive–analytic therapy. Advances in Psychiatric treatment, 7(4), pp.243-252.
  2. Rothbaum, B.O., Meadows, E.A., Resick, P. and Foy, D.W., 2000. Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  3. Oldham‐Cooper, R. and Loades, M., 2017. Disorder‐specific versus generic cognitive‐behavioral treatment of anxiety disorders in children and young people: A systematic narrative review of evidence for the effectiveness of disorder‐specific CBT compared with the disorder‐generic treatment, Coping Cat. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 30(1), pp.6-17.
  4. Ryle, A., 2012. Critique of CBT and CAT. Change for the better, 4, pp.1-8.
  5. Barnard, J.J., 2018. From simulation to implementation: Two CAT case studies. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 23(1), p.14.
  6. Ramsay, J.R., 2016. “Turning Intentions Into Actions” CBT for Adult ADHD Focused on Implementation. Clinical Case Studies, 15(3), pp.179-197.
  7. Ryle, A. and Kerr, I.B., 2020. Introducing cognitive analytic therapy: Principles and practice of a relational approach to mental health. John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Leiman, M., 1994. The development of cognitive analytic therapy. International Journal of Short-Term Psychotherapy, 9(2/3), pp.67-82.
  9. Guzick, A.G., Schneider, S.C., Kendall, P.C., Wood, J.J., Kerns, C.M., Small, B.J., Park, Y.E., Cepeda, S.L. and Storch, E.A., 2022. Change during cognitive and exposure phases of cognitive–behavioral therapy for autistic youth with anxiety disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 90(9), p.709.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 26, 2023

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