What is TEAM-CBT?

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In January of this year I earned my Level 1 Certification in TEAM-CBT, making me one of only three therapists in the Houston area with TEAM-CBT certification. I have received training on use of this approach with children and adolescents as well as adults, and am continuing to participate in training and consultation in using TEAM with both populations as I work toward higher levels of certification.  

TEAM-CBT is a cutting-edge approach to therapy developed by Dr. David Burns at the Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Burns was one of the original leaders in the development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been found to be one of the most effective forms of therapy. He was also one of the first mental health professionals to write a self-help book to teach people how they could use CBT on their own (Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy), which is still one of the top selling self-help books on the market. He has since written several more self-help books as well as doing research on what makes therapy effective and teaching other providers how to be more effective therapists. It was through his research and innovative approach to therapy that TEAM-CBT was born.

What is the TEAM in TEAM-CBT?

TEAM is an acronym for the structure of TEAM-CBT.

T = Testing. Therapists using a TEAM approach will ask you to fill out brief symptom checklists each session—often at the beginning and end of the session. This is equivalent to taking your “emotional temperature” at each session to track progress. You may also be asked to fill out a longer symptom checklist during the intake process to make sure your therapist is aware of all the factors that could be important in your treatment.

E = Empathy. There is a strong focus on the use of empathy in the therapeutic relationship to develop a strong working relationship. While most therapists consider themselves to be empathic, therapists using a TEAM approach use a measure at the end of each session asking you to rate their empathy that session to make sure of it. TEAM therapists will openly discuss any concerns you have about how they are responding to you and make adjustments as needed.

A = Agenda Setting. Agenda setting means having an agreement about your overall goals for therapy as well as what you want to focus on each session. It is an ongoing process that happens throughout each session to make sure it is your agenda, and not the therapists or anyone else’s, that is being focused on. In TEAM, agenda setting also involves a process of addressing any factors that may get in the way of effectively working on your goals before working on any methods for addressing them.

M = Methods. Methods are the “how” of change. They are the tools, skills, or techniques that you use to address any concerns you choose to work on. Unlike some approaches to therapy that use a single method or only a few, TEAM therapists draw from 50 or more methods from a variety of therapeutic approaches, with a focus on finding the one/ones that will work best for each person.

What makes TEAM-CBT different?

The framework and approach to each of the steps outlined above make TEAM-CBT different from other approaches to therapy. TEAM-CBT is not a “school” of therapy, but a structure or approach to the therapeutic process. Most schools of therapy have a narrower range of methods that are used to address problems or concerns. Although many of the methods used in TEAM come from traditional CBT, therapists are encouraged to incorporate methods from other approaches as well, as long as those methods have research to support their efficacy.

TEAM-CBT is a very collaborative model with patient and therapist working together to set goals and the direction for therapy. As a general rule, a TEAM-CBT therapist will not tell you what you need to focus on, but will help you decide where you want to focus. If something is working for you and you don’t want to change it, or you’re not ready to work on it, a TEAM therapist will respect that and not try to force their own agenda. They will, however, try to keep you focused on working toward the goals you set, and be up-front with you about what you will need to do if you want to accomplish those goals. It is an active form of therapy with a strong emphasis on setting an agenda and learning and applying skills to accomplish that goal both in and out of sessions. Sessions often include written work, and homework is usually required. In many instances, the TEAM approach can lead to faster results than a traditional approach to therapy, provided that you are actively engaged in the process and willing to do work outside of sessions.

You may have noticed that “methods” were last in the acronym, and they are last in the approach. A TEAM therapist will not just listen and sprinkle in advice, but will approach methods in a systematic way once you are ready to start focusing on a specific problem.

What about kids?

Traditional CBT can be effective with children as young as 5 or 6, provided they are willing to actively engage in the work, and TEAM-CBT is no different. Although TEAM was originally developed for use with adults, it has been modified by highly skilled clinicians like Dr. Jacob Towery (author of The
Antidepressant Book: A Practical Guide for Teens and Young Adults to Overcome Depression and Stay Healthy)
for use with children and adolescents.

Just like with adults, children have to be actively involved in wanting to work on goals in order for this approach to be effective. A TEAM therapist trained to use this approach with children will meet with parents as well as children during the intake process to determine what help they can provide and who it would be most helpful to work with (primarily the child, primarily the parent, or some combination), and will discuss their recommendations before beginning treatment.

Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about this approach.