Dear Doctor, 

We have had a recent evaluation on our eighth grade son. The school where the evaluation was done recommended we find a “cognitive therapist.” What does this mean, and how do we find one?


Dear Asking,

This is a fine example of mystification through verbiage!

The word “cognitive” comes from a Latin root, which means to think. This is something our species does, at least most of the time. We also have the power of choice. We are able to create, and we are capable of actually altering our behavior.

Now think about it. The human brain, in most basic and simple terms, does three things. We think, behave and feel. Fancier terms are used. We refer to them as affect, behavior and cognition.

If a youngster’s problem is behavior, then how a central thought may be governing that behavior is essential to change. Similarly, affect may be involved. Assuming feeling or affect are the main issue, changing thinking and behavior will help. You get the idea.

The image of a middle school boy about the age of your son is still clear in my memory. As he sat in my office, he pronounced with great gravity, “Dr. Larsen, I have decided to do stuff.” Indeed he did, and it changed his life,

As a technique, it is much less complicated than it sounds. It does require some relationship with a caring therapist. It may involve some things to try outside of the therapy hour, too.

If you want to know if a therapist understands cognitive therapy, just ask them.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at


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