When someone enters into addiction treatment, they are very likely to hear about cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is a treatment approach that was originally developed to treat mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety although it has since been expanded to improve the symptoms of addiction illness in a structured rehab program.
The cognitive behavioral approach focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how they influence the patient. In an addiction setting, this is applied to identifying and addressing the individual patient’s behavioral patterns and thought processes that led to substance abuse. In other words, cognitive behavioral therapy programs allow patients more control over their thoughts and feelings which in turn alters their behavior in more positive ways. CBT ultimately hands back self-control to someone who has completely lost theirs to addiction illness which drives their need to use.
How Does CBT Help in Addiction Recovery?
The objective of the cognitive behavioral approach is to increase a patient’s self-awareness so that they are more conscious of what’s going through their minds at any given point. This allows them a better understanding of themselves and also provides insight as to why they became addicted in the first place. Through adapting negative thoughts and feelings, patients are able to make the changes they need to combat their substance abuse disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy programs are usually delivered in a discussion setting between patient and therapist. Initially, they will focus on the patient’s negative views of themselves, the world around them and their future. This generally reveals some flawed perceptions patients hold which are known as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions cloud a person’s judgment and are like wearing dark lensed glasses that warp their view of everything around them.
Some of the cognitive distortions held by someone with addiction illness include:
- All-or-nothing thinking which makes patients perceive situations in black and white
- Overgeneralization or viewing negative events as never-ending
- Applying mental filters that focus entirely on negatives
- An inclination to disqualify the positive without consideration
- The tendency to jump to conclusions and make negative assumptions
The cognitive behavioral approach works in addiction treatment by enabling patients to adapt their thoughts to become a more positive person.
Many people with addiction illness either have a co-occurring mental health condition or have developed the symptoms as a direct result of drug or alcohol abuse. These patients are known as dual diagnosis and CBT has been shown to be particularly effective in identifying and treating them. Addiction is often motivated by an initial need to self-medicate against emotional pain, although the need to use eventually becomes compulsive behavior rather than something a person does through choice.
Cognitive behavioral programs effectively address underlying psychological issues in addiction treatment in order to:
- Reduce underlying reasons for addiction
- Prevent relapse in recovery
What Is Involved in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT teaches patients invaluable life skills that can be used when they have left rehab and returned to their daily lives. They will have the ability to reduce their own stress levels, improve their behavior and increase their overall sense of wellbeing.
Generally, a CBT therapist will take on different roles during the course of your treatment, as follows:
- CBT therapists educate patients regarding their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Homework assignments are set which include a research element for patients to explore their illness further.
- A CBT therapist is often a patient’s strongest ally in treatment, taking time to devise a list of measurable goals for them to achieve that are based on their personal circumstances. They will be there to celebrate successes and provide encouragement for perceived “failures” or relapses.
Typical CBT sessions last around an hour and involve significant discussion that is guided by the therapist. Irrational thoughts, negative behaviors even fear can all be brought into the open and addressed in a session and therapists will challenge a patient’s negative thinking while at the same time offering positive ways for them to work around the obstacles they face. Cognitive behavioral therapy provides patients with the coping skills they can use in a real-time environment, which positively reinforces treatment in rehab and allows for a more optimistic future in recovery.