Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Treat Cyberbullying

Author Photo

Liana Riddle

Marketing Manager, KCare

Aug 6, 2021

Cyberbullying can have lifelong effects. Discover how social service agencies can raise awareness and use CBT treatment methods

The ever-increasing use of technology connects us to classmates, co-workers, long lost relatives, and newly-found friends in different countries. This connection shrinks our world in a process called globalization, and with it comes a plethora of opportunities, such as free trade opportunities, competition, and a melting pot of culture. However, every rose has it’s thorn, and cyberbullying is a growing phenomena in this digital age.

Cyberbullying is when people are bullied or harassed through technological means such as email, texting, social media, or online gaming platforms. Over 59% of teens in the U.S. have experienced some form of cyberbullying and 33% have experienced cyberthreats. 

The effects of cyberbullying can last a lifetime, with some of those consequences including:

  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Increased likelihood of abusing alcohol and/or drugs
  • Decreased self esteem
  • Decreased school performance
  • Increased chances of suicide (studies have found victims of bullying are 2x – 9x more likely to have suicidal thoughts than others)

Raising awareness and taking preventative measures against cyberbullying are some of the main methods social workers can use to fight the effects of cyberbullying. One of the most effective methods for addressing emotional distress caused by cyberbullying is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is designed such that it teaches individuals intrapersonal skills on how to regulate their emotions in relation to the situation they are in. This emotional regulation thus teaches them how their thoughts and feelings can influence their behaviors. 

One study (Berry et al., Australia 2009) suggested that adolescents who received 8 hour-long weekly sessions of a CBT program over the course of 3 months saw a great reduction in anxiety symptoms and child-reported bullying. On top of the sessions, they were given weekly homework and instructed to practice strategies in real-life situations. Those weekly sessions included:

  • Psychoeducation
  • Cognitive restructuring 
  • Adaptive coping strategies in bullying situations
  • Social skills enhancement
  • Self esteem strategies
  • Replace prevention

In addition to CBT, social workers can utilize their interpersonal skills to provide assistance in cyberbullying situations. Demonstrating that they are a trustworthy adult can help open lines of communication in terms of adolescents having a safe environment where they can discuss bullying openly. Offer support to help them reflect on the situation and build the skills they lack so they can respond differently in the future.

Only 10% of adolescents inform a loved one when they are a victim of cyberbullying. By utilizing CBT, establishing trust, and offering a safe and secure environment, social workers can help diminish the effects of cyberbullying. 

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