What Is CBT?
When many people think of going to therapy, they are imagining the traditional Freudian psychoanalysis they’ve seen on TV and in movies. They picture laying on a comfy couch while a therapist asks about their childhood to determine how these experiences have caused their current problems.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is nothing like this. CBT is a solutions-focused form of therapy that treats problems by modifying dysfunctional thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. This approach boosts happiness and improves outcomes by putting you in control of your future.
How CBT Helps with Addiction Recovery
Because of its reputation for effectiveness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is widely used in both inpatient and outpatient programs for people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It’s more frequently associated with individual therapy, but can be used in group therapy sessions as well. Since CBT is approved for use with people of all ages, it can be used with teens who suffer from substance use disorders as well as adults who are abusing drugs or alcohol.
Subsets of CBT include Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
CBT is used in treatment for drug or alcohol abuse by addressing the specific dysfunctional thoughts that led to the use of addictive substances as a coping mechanism. This might include:
- Overgeneralizing: Seeing situations as an “all or nothing” endeavor
- Mind reading: Assuming you know how other people feel or what they are thinking without making a genuine effort to communicate
- Fortune telling: Acting as if you have the power to predict the future
- Catastrophizing: Constantly imagining the worst-case scenario as what’s going to happen
- Filtering: Ignoring the positive aspects of your life and only focusing on what is upsetting or frustrating
- Jumping to conclusions: Making assumptions about recovery or relationships with others without having any evidence to support your conclusions
The dysfunctional thoughts addressed in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions are often patterns of thinking that began as a child or young adult, so they’ve evolved into an unconscious way of viewing the world. The goal of treatment is to break this negative reflexive thinking and substitute a more balanced and healthful way of approaching life’s challenges.
Each CBT session usually has very specific goals, such as handling cravings in social situations or dealing with stress in a healthier fashion. At the end of the session, the therapist often assigns homework in the form of specific tasks or actions to work on between appointments. For example, this might include buying a calendar to promote better time management as a way to relieve stress or sitting down with your partner for dinner and discussing specific relationship issues related to your newfound sobriety.
The timeframe for CBT varies depending upon individual needs, but most experts recommend a baseline of 10 to 15 sessions with a therapist. This approach is considered short term, since traditional forms of psychoanalysis can often require years of work.
The relationship between therapist and a patient with the CBT approach is equal parts teacher and teammate. The therapist offers education on specific symptoms and treatment for substance use disorders, but acts as your teammate in developing a plan to reach your personal recovery goals. With this approach, you are empowered to begin working towards your own vision of a successful sober future as soon as possible.
Addressing Co-Occurring Issues
Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions have specific goals for each appointment, the therapist often works on addressing more than one issue that is affecting the patient’s sobriety. For example, mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are often helped by using the CBT approach. CBT is also useful in dealing with past trauma such as child abuse or domestic violence.
Using Additional Supportive Interventions
When appropriate, CBT for the treatment of substance use disorders is accompanied by other evidence-supported interventions. This may include the use of medication assisted treatment, which has been shown to be more effective than using either approach alone. Holistic treatments such as yoga or mindfulness meditation may also be recommended to promote greater physical, mental, and spiritual health.
The CBT approach is compatible with attending 12-Step meetings for groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Using these interventions together can promote a continuum of care that helps build the foundation for lasting sobriety.
A Present-Oriented, Problem-Focused, and Goal-Directed Approach to Sobriety
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we offer an integrated approach to treating substance use disorders that incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as part of personalized treatment plans designed to promote healing of the mind, body, and spirit. By addressing the underlying issues contributing to addiction and helping clients to develop healthy lifestyle behaviors, we provide a present-oriented, problem-focused, and goal-directed path to sobriety.