Cognitive therapy, known in some instances as “cognitive-behavioral therapy” or CBT, is a common form of impulse control treatment. This kind of psychotherapy can be helpful for individuals with impulse control disorder because it addresses both the way they think and the way they behave.

Cognitive therapy is based on the principle that whichever events occur, the way people think about them is what affects how they feel about them. These feelings, in turn, prompt certain behaviors.

Some responsive behaviors can be unhealthy in many ways. Examples of unhealthy responses include:

  • Bouts of rage
  • Hair pulling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Skin picking.

Impulse control treatment is critical when the behavior becomes more than merely habitual, when it disrupts and causes harm to an individual’s well-being and relationships, or when it involves cyclical patterns of stress, release and remorse.

The goal of using cognitive therapy for impulse control treatment is to unscramble this unhealthy sequence of thoughts, feelings and behavior. People may be unaware of the problematic assumptions and reactions that underlie their behavior, and this therapeutic approach gives them insight and tools to handle their impulse control disorder.

A benefit of cognitive therapy, particularly for people who struggle with impulse control, is that it is often conducted on a short-term basis with a goal of long-term benefits.

How Cognitive Therapy for Impulse Control Works

The steps involved in cognitive-behavioral therapy for impulse control treatment often include the following:

  • Assess the disorder: Patients work with therapists to define and diagnose their impulse control disorder.
  • Build stress reduction skills: A key part of impulse control treatment is to help individuals learn to recognize and interrupt the buildup of tension that precedes problem behaviors.
  • Confront and correct thought distortions: Therapists help patients examine the unrealistic assumptions that cause uncomfortable feelings and problematic behavior.
  • Develop coping skills: Patients learn specific ways to deal with an impulse control disorder, like wearing mittens to avoid hair-pulling. Therapists also help individuals feel less overwhelmed by their emotions.
  • Do homework: When pursuing cognitive therapy for impulse control, patients work between sessions to continue untangling their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  • Prevent damaging behavior: Patients learn to analyze what happens just before the problematic behavior and how they can manage their thoughts and reactions to prevent the continuing behavior.
  • Prevent relapses: Impulse control treatment continues indefinitely, even after patients stop seeing a therapist as they continue to use the tools of cognitive therapy for impulse control.


CBT Psychology. (2009). About CBT. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from

Cognitive Health Group. (2005). Cognitive-behavior therapy for trichotillomania and related problems. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from

Martin, B. (2010). In-depth: Cognitive behavioral therapy. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 23, 2014