Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), CBT is a type of “talk therapy” that differs from traditional psychotherapy because the patient and therapist actively work together to help the patient recover.

This means that a CBT therapist will be present-oriented, problem-focused, and goal-directed in addressing the challenging symptoms of addiction.  Because CBT is an active treatment, homework or practice outside of sessions is also a common component. This allows change to take place sooner, and helps clients gain a sense of mastery using the skills they learn.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on exploring the relationships between a person's thoughts, feelings and behaviors. During CBT, a therapist will actively work with the client to identify unhealthy patterns, and how those patterns may be causing self-destructive behaviors and beliefs.

By addressing these unhealthy patterns, the client and therapist can work together to develop constructive ways of thinking that will produce healthier behaviors.

What are the core principles of CBT?
The core principles of CBT include:

  • Identifying negative or false beliefs
  • Identifying the connections between those negative / false beliefs and emotions, as well as behaviors
  • Testing or restructuring the false beliefs to make them more accurate and/or helpful
  • Changing behaviors to support more accurate / helpful beliefs, and thereby changing negative emotions
  • Taking an active role in treatment, both in session and between sessions by doing homework or practice assignments

How does CBT treat substance abuse issues?
Individuals in CBT treatment for substance abuse will learn to identify and correct problematic behaviors, like using substances, by applying a range of different skills to stop using drugs, as well as the range of other problematic behaviors that often co-occur with addiction.

Specific techniques include exploring the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use, self-monitoring to recognize cravings early and identify situations that might put one at risk for use, and developing strategies for coping with cravings and avoiding those high-risk situations.

What are the benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
It’s common for individuals struggling with substance use disorder to have destructive, negative thinking. Since thoughts affect wellbeing, changing those harmful thought patterns is essential to healthy recovery.

CBT addresses these harmful thought patterns in a structured and direct manner, which helps clients recognize their ability to change their thinking, and regulate distressing emotions and harmful behaviors.

CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for substance abuse, eating disorders, and many other specific mental health diagnoses. It has a considerable amount of scientific data supporting its use and many mental health care professionals have training in CBT, making it both effective and accessible. Research also indicates that the skills individuals learn through cognitive-behavioral approaches remain long-after the completion of treatment.

If you would like to find a CBT provider, click here.

If you are a therapist or counselor and would like resources on CBT, click here.

Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse