CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) was started in the 1950s. It has helped many people with mental disorders live a better life. People who do not have mental disorders but feel unhappy with their current way of life might also be positively affected by CBT. At the Discovery Institute of New Jersey, we incorporate CBT into our treatment programs. CBT is a short-term treatment that does not involve any medication, though it can be paired with medication if the client needs it.

What is CBT?

CBT combines the current theories on how people learn (behaviorism) under the theory that how you learn affects how you think and interpret events in your lives (cognition). Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on an educational approach and goal setting. In CBT, individuals can set specific and individualized goals. For example, instead of setting a goal such as “stand up for yourself three times a day”, an individual may aim for something like “be more assertive”.  

Who Can Benefit From CBT?

Many people can find relief from many of their symptoms through CBT. Individuals who suffer from the following mental or behavioral health conditions:

Problems like substance abuse, personality disorders, and bulimia do not happen on their own. People who develop these disorders are often greatly affected by their past and/or present environments. This is one reason that CBT is available for families as a whole. Special CBT programs for couples also exist.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can also take place in a group setting, also known as group therapy. For people who struggle with social skills, a group setting provides hands-on practice of the concepts being taught while working on them under the supervision of a licensed professional. 

How Does CBT Work?

There are several distinct steps to CBT. At the beginning of each session, there is a mood check-up to gauge how the patient is feeling and what steps might need to be taken to help them before the session starts. CBT can feel very physically draining at times and can be emotionally uncomfortable at times. But, the process is necessary when it comes to recovery from addiction and its effects.

Step 1: Identifying problematic situations and conditions in your own life

This might seem unnecessary as some problem situations and conditions might seem obvious. But this step might also do things like uncover hidden triggers in a person’s life. Sometimes, people may not notice certain triggers and stressors in their lives. On the other hand, they may feel unable to accept the truth about these triggers. In other cases, individuals may be in denial over these issues.

For example, some people in early recovery can find odd things like listening to a song that they used to listen to while they abused substances makes them develop strong cravings. It might not make sense to the person at the time. But the therapist can help find the connection and help the patient make modifications. 

Step 2: Become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the problem(s)

In group therapy, you will explore this by talking to the group. In individual therapy, you will “self-talk” or talk about those thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, aloud to yourself in the presence of the therapist until you have a firm understanding of them.

Step 3: Identify negative or inaccurate thinking

Some thought patterns such as inaccurate thinking could affect a person. For someone with an avoidant personality disorder, thoughts that someone might criticize them are overwhelming. People in this phase of CBT might be asked to pay attention to their physical sensations, emotions, and behaviors when confronted with those situations. 

Step 4: Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking

This is one of the hardest steps for many individuals. The negative or inaccurate thoughts for many patients might have been developing over years or even decades. Many people in CBT go for long-standing problems. Someone with personality disorders, or even more traditionally treated problems like bipolar disorder or depression might go years before receiving treatment.

The Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The effects of CBT are long-lasting. If needed patients can go back to a CBT therapist for a “refresher” course. However, in an overwhelming number of instances the person can mindfully practice instead of using those skills that have become a habit. CBT is most effective when depression and anxiety are the main problem area. This does not mean that it is not effective or when used for other problem areas. 

Issues from disorders such as addiction that are directly related to the disorder like managing cravings are not the only areas that CBT improves. This therapeutic approach also seeks to improve the patient’s social skills to help them get and maintain a job and healthy relationships. Disorders like substance abuse disorder are not popularly known to affect the person in non-substance related areas. For example, someone deep into a heroin dependency might become so socially isolated that when they decide to stop abusing heroin, they feel like they are losing their ‘best friend’, the drug. They might need help to socially readjust to spending time with other people.

CBT can be used in combination with other therapies. Substance abuse clinics often combine CBT with more traditional talk therapy and other behavioral therapies to produce long term recovery journeys. Other less traditional therapies like music therapy and art therapy might also be involved. People with personality disorders often benefit from a variety of behavioral therapies such as Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

What are Common CBT Goals?

As mentioned earlier, individuals in cognitive behavioral therapy can set goals. These goals are important components of the recovery process. Common CBT goals are including the following:

Setting more realistic goals and problem-solving skills

Individuals who are working to recover from substance abuse may often feel overwhelmed. It can be hard to transition from a life of continuous substance use to a life of abstinence from substance use. The very thought of it can be enough to keep individuals from succeeding. 

However, the journey to recovery can be much less overwhelming if people set reachable, achievable, and realistic goals. Therapy approaches like CBT can help people to do just that. 

Goals should be attainable and realistic. They should also be specific and include solutions. For example, individuals in recovery may not benefit from setting a goal like “I won’t use alcohol to cope with stress anymore.” Although this is obviously a good plan, the approach may not be beneficial because it doesn’t include a solution. Instead, those in recovery should think along other lines: “I have used alcohol to cope with stress. But, from now on, I will talk and think through my emotions. I won’t ignore them or use alcohol to help me forget about them. Instead, I will speak with my therapist, think about the consequences of unhealthy coping methods, or convert my negative emotions and energy to positive ones.”

Learning to manage anxiety

Anxiety is often a trigger for substance abuse. But, cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals to develop healthy coping alternatives. These coping methods can help individuals in many areas of their lives. For instance, individuals can learn to practice positive self-talk. They may be able to learn how to say things like, “Everything will be alright if this presentation is not perfect. I will still have the chance to get a good grade”. 

Determining which situations are often avoided and gradually approaching them

Sometimes, people turn to substance abuse instead of dealing with the difficult situations they encounter. Instead of dealing with those challenges, obstacles, and struggles, they may drink or use drugs

However, therapy works to help individuals to learn how to approach those challenges in a healthy way. 

Identifying and engaging in enjoyable activities such as hobbies, social activities, and exercise

Enjoyable activities help people enjoy their days and exercise releases endorphins that make people feel better. Adding hobbies, exercise, and social activities can help a person round out their day instead of becoming stuck in problem areas like a bad day at work for the rest of the day.

Identify negative thoughts

An example of a negative thought might be “I always look stupid when I ask questions”. Therapy can help you to keep track of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. This will you and your therapist identify different symptoms. This will make it easier to change your thoughts and behaviors. 

Find Help and Hope at Discovery Institute

If you are struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse, know that you are not alone. Many others are suffering from the same challenges. But, just as you are not alone in your struggle, you don’t have to be alone in your recovery. We are here to help you find freedom from substance abuse in your life.

Here at Discovery Institute, our staff is dedicated to helping individuals to fight the effects of alcoholism and drug abuse. We understand that each of our clients is different. So, we work to provide each individual with unique and specific care. 

You don’t have to continue struggling with substance dependence. You can break free from it. Recovery is only a phone call away. If you want to end substance abuse in your life, just reach out to us today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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