Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy or talk therapy.
By engaging with CBT, you can learn to identify the destructive thought patterns that can result in poor behaviors like substance abuse and alcohol abuse. You’ll then challenge these thoughts, and you’ll replace them with more realistic, objective thoughts. Ideally, this will lead to improved behavior.
Where did CBT come from, then, and why is so effective?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Brief History
Psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T Beck created CBT back in the 1960s while working as a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist. Dr Beck, a practicing psychoanalyst, tested some concepts of depression. As a result of his initial experiment, Dr. Beck found that patients with depression seemed to experience negative thoughts arising out of nowhere. He termed these “automatic thoughts”. Dr Beck found that these negative thoughts feel into one of three areas:
- The patient themselves
- The world in general
- The future
Dr. Beck started helping patients to identify these automatic thoughts, and also to evaluate them. He discovered that this allowed patients to start thinking more objectively and realistically. Resultantly, they felt better emotionally and also started to behave more functionally.
In the event of patients changing the underpinning views they held about themselves, their world, and the future, Dr Beck called the approach cognitive therapy.
Over time, this has become known as cognitive behavioral therapy for the way it melds the two disciplines of cognitive psychology and behaviorism.
While initially used to treat patients with depression, CBT has been demonstrated over the years to be highly effective for treating addiction, and a wide variety of other disorders.
We have the benefit of more than 2000 peer-reviewed studies showing the efficacy of CBT for psychiatric disorders, medical issues with a psychiatric component, and psychological problems.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Good For?
As mentioned, cognitive behavior therapy can be used to treat a broad spread of conditions and issues.
CBT is often the first form of psychotherapy used as it can help you to quickly identify specific challenges and learn to overcome these challenges.
You won’t need as many sessions of CBT as many other types of therapy.
CBT aims include:
- Learning techniques to cope with life’s stressors
- Managing the symptoms of mental health disorders
- Alleviating the symptoms of substance abuse
- Preventing a relapse of the symptoms of addiction or mental illness
- Determining how to better manage your emotions
- Coping with grief and loss more effectively
- Resolving conflicts in interpersonal relationships
- Improving communication skills
- Overcoming emotional trauma linked to abuse and violence
- Coping with a chronic illness
- Managing chronic physical symptoms
As well as being useful to treat depression and substance abuse disorder, including alcohol use disorder, CBT can also work well for treating:
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Bipolar disorders
- Sexual disorders
CBT can sometimes be more effective when combined with other treatments, such as antidepressants and other prescribed medication as appropriate. Equally, CBT can work in a standalone capacity.
What to Expect from CBT for Addiction
When you start working with a CBT therapist, they’ll encourage you to openly discuss your thoughts and feelings, specifically with regard to things troubling you. This may initially feel uncomfy, but you should find you soon gain confidence and start feeling more comfortable offloading your innermost thoughts. Many people find it easier to speak with a professional third party than a friend or family member once the initial awkwardness is overcome.
CBT focuses on specific problems with a ruthlessly goal-oriented approach. This is not the type of therapy where you’ll be confronted with nothing but a few nods and “Hmms” as you therapist makes notes. Instead, you’ll engage with activities to implement what you learn in sessions in real life.
The therapist’s approach will vary depending on your needs and preferences.
Typically, though, CBT follows these steps:
- Identifying problematic situations and conditions: The nature of the problem will depend on the individual. This could be a mental health disorder, it could be a troubling event like divorce or bereavement, or it could be a medical condition. When applied to addiction treatment, the problematic situation will center on drink or drugs. You’ll spend some time at the beginning of therapy exploring the problems you want to work on and setting goals in line with this.
- Becoming aware of how you view these situations and conditions: Having established the areas you want to work on, you’ll then share your thoughts about these situations and conditions with your therapist. You may be encouraged to keep a journal of your thoughts so you can more expediently and accurately share these thoughts.
- Identifying flawed thinking: Your therapist will ask you to note your emotional, physical, and behavioral responses to the trigger situations relevant to you.
- Reshaping that flawed thinking: Your therapist will ask if you feel you are viewing this situation objectively and based on fact, or viewing it through a distorted lens or from an inaccurate standpoint.
How to Get the Most out of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While CBT might not initially seem like something you would find useful, almost anyone suffering from substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder would find cognitive-behavioral therapy useful. Even if it’s only partially effective, that could be all the help you need.
Whether or not you feel CBT is something you would enjoy, there are some simple pointers to bear in mind to get the most from therapy.
- View CBT as a partnership with your therapist: If you actively participate in sessions rather than assuming a helpless or passive role, you’ll more effectively share in the decision-making process. Make sure you can agree with your therapist on your overarching goals.
- Open up honestly to your therapist: If you find it hard to frankly offload details of your intimate thoughts, tell your therapist and they’ll help you to open up. Being honest and transparent is instrumental to getting the most out of CBT sessions.
- Stick to the treatment plan: Even if you’re feeling depressed or unmotivated, make an effort to attend all your CBT sessions. Failing to adhere to the schedule can disrupt progress.
- Pack plenty of patience: CBT will not deliver instant results. You’ll need to work hard on often painful emotional issues, and you’ll often feel worse during the early stages of therapy as you confront conflicts past and present head-on. After several sessions, though, you’ll start reaping the rewards.
- Do your homework: You should complete all assignments your therapist gives you so you can apply what you have learned in sessions. Practice trumps theory.
- Learn to become your own therapist: Over time, you’ll have the skills you need to act as your own therapist as you pursue a life of sustained sobriety.
CBT for Addiction Treatment at The District Recovery Community
Whatever the nature and severity of your addiction, we have suitable treatment programs here at The District Recovery Community. We also offer dual diagnosis treatment programs, ideal if you have a mental health condition co-occurring with addiction.
To get things started, call the friendly TDRC team at 844.287.8506.