Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) In Addiction Treatment

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The many different forms of therapy offered in substance abuse treatment programs can be a little overwhelming at first. This guide to cognitive behavioral therapy breaks down the pros and cons of this therapy type so that you can be better prepared for treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of individual addiction therapy that is commonly found in both inpatient and outpatient drug addiction treatment centers.

It is demonstrated to be effective in treating substance abuse and other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CBT is a technique in itself but has also grown into an umbrella term for various related behavioral therapies, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is a talk therapy technique with a number of applications in behavioral and mental health care. It helps people identify their harmful or self-destructive thinking patterns and habits.

Sometimes referred to as the “father of cognitive behavioral therapy,” psychiatrist Aaron Beck is credited with developing the approach in the 1960s.

Beck had been working with depressed clients when he discovered that their spontaneous negative thoughts, which he called “automatic thoughts,” represented cognitive distortions that could be addressed, resulting in more positive behavior.

The principles of CBT essentially boil down to two core beliefs:

  • people with mental or behavioral health issues can learn effective coping skills
  • these issues are often based on unhelpful ways of thinking or learned patterns of behavior

As a broad field of psychotherapy, CBT can be applied to your or your loved one’s individualized needs throughout the recovery journey from alcohol or drug abuse.

How CBT Works

Since behavioral therapy covers a range of different therapy techniques and approaches, there is no singular path of treatment that a provider may follow.

However, there are some common aspects of CBT found across all of its forms. It is typically done over just a few sessions and is meant to target a specific problem.

During a CBT session, your therapist will guide you through a few basic steps. First, you’ll identify a problem in your life and explore your thoughts and emotions related to the problem.

Next, you’ll identify the negative thoughts and behavioral patterns related to the problem and reshape harmful ways of thinking into more positive ones for actions that align with these new beliefs.

On average, it takes between five and 20 sessions to sort through an issue using CBT.

Who Can Benefit From CBT?

CBT is a very beneficial tool for addiction recovery and co-occurring disorder care, but it also works for anybody facing stressful or emotionally challenging times.

Behavioral therapy can help people experiencing:

  • mental illness
  • grief
  • physical medical conditions
  • anxiety disorders
  • relationship difficulties
  • major life changes
  • alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • drug addiction
  • phobias
  • eating disorders
  • trauma

Types Of CBT For Addiction Treatment

You and your healthcare provider will work together to determine the best treatment plan and the most applicable form of therapy for you.

CBT is an ever-growing and changing field and is not limited to the types listed below. However, these are some of the most common forms for addiction treatment.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a popular method of behavioral therapy that was originally developed to help people with personality disorders, but it can be used to treat addiction as well.

This form of therapy focuses on teaching people to accept their negative thoughts instead of fighting them. By accepting them, people can learn to be more present and less reactive.

DBT helps people view themselves, other people, and the world at large in a more positive light.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT is a newer form of CBT that heavily emphasizes mindfulness in people living with chronic depression, anxiety, or other recurring periods of intense mental stress.

While CBT can help people change their negative thought patterns, MBCT prompts people to distance themselves from their cognitive distortions and practice letting go of difficult emotions.

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is another mindfulness-based form of therapy used in addiction treatment that looks at how people’s thoughts, emotions, and drug use are affected by their environment.

As the name suggests, acceptance and commitment therapy sessions help people accept their thoughts and commit to new ways of doing things that are more aligned with a healthy lifestyle.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy works to help people overcome their fears and triggers in a safe environment. People can practice confronting phobias and reacting to them in healthier ways.

For addiction treatment, exposure therapy may be paired with relapse prevention techniques so that people can prepare to face and negate cravings to drink or use drugs in the real world.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

This form of therapy targets irrational beliefs and assumptions that may be interfering with a person’s ability to function.

People begin forming their views of the world at a young age, but those views aren’t always accurate or healthy. REBT combats this by helping clients build more positive, rational worldviews.

CBT And Motivational Interviewing (MI)

MI is a popular, evidence-based approach to drug and alcohol addiction care that is often paired with CBT treatment.

MI works to strengthen a person’s motivation to achieve sobriety and change addictive behaviors.

It typically takes just one or two therapy sessions for this form of treatment to be effective. Empathy, awareness, acceptance, and empowerment are core principles of MI.

How Effective Is CBT In Substance Abuse Recovery?

Therapy is a subjective experience, and no two people react to it the same way. However, CBT has been shown through research studies to be an effective treatment approach for addiction.

For example, follow-ups with clients who completed CBT or MI treatment showed that these clients had lower rates of relapse than those who didn’t complete therapy programs.

CBT also has a proven track record in treating mental health conditions and co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

Finding CBT Professionals For Addiction Treatment

Most outpatient therapists offer some form of CBT to clients, and you can often find more than one form of CBT at the same facility.

You can find a CBT provider by exploring local therapy services and rehab programs or asking your doctor for recommendations.

If you have a busy schedule or live in a more rural area, there are online resources available through therapy apps or in-person offices that provide telehealth services.

It’s OK if you don’t connect with the first therapist you find. Don’t be afraid to shop around until you feel comfortable, safe, and secure in your therapy setting.

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