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What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

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Reviewed by Bill Wilson, MS, Chief Program Officer at Gaudenzia

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the best studied and most effective forms of psychotherapy commonly practiced today. As the name suggests, CBT combines cognitive therapy — a type of psychotherapy that deals with negative thoughts about oneself and the world — with behavioral therapy, which focuses on identifying and changing destructive behavioral patterns.

CBT can be tailored to address specific concerns, such as in substance use disorder treatment (sometimes referred to as addiction treatment). The underlying principle of CBT posits that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected and impact our general well-being.

Looking for “CBT near me”? If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected]

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Involve?

CBT helps individuals discern which thoughts and behavioral patterns are harmful, and which ones are helpful. By combining cognitive therapy with behavioral therapy, CBT uses the cognitive model to help clients understand the inter-connected relatedness between our thought processes, feelings, and behaviors.

Here is a closer look at how cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy work, respectively.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy helps an individual identify and change distressing or false beliefs, allowing them to form a clearer picture of their own thoughts and expectations. Common negative or unhelpful thought patterns include:

  • Overgeneralizing — According to the American Psychological Association, overgeneralizing is a “cognitive distortion in which an individual views a single event as an invariable rule, so that, for example, failure at accomplishing one task will predict an endless pattern of defeat in all tasks.”
  • Catastrophizing — This occurs when an individual assumes the worst outcome will happen and often involves exaggerating difficulties or believing a situation is worse than it is.
  • Minimizing — Minimizing is a cognitive distortion that occurs when we reduce the significance of an event, such as downplaying our own accomplishments, or believing that a negative or traumatic event is less significant than it really is.  
  • Mind Reading — The habit of “mind reading” is a thinking pattern where we expect others to know what we are thinking without having to tell them, or believing we know what others are thinking without them having to tell us.  
  • Absolutist Thinking — This occurs when an individual thinks in terms of totality, often expressing thoughts about events as occurring “always” or “never,” rather than being situational.

When it comes to treating substance use disorders, these are just a few examples of many different cognitive distortions clients often engage in as part of their cognitive schema. When clients fail to recognize and address these destructive thought patterns, they lead to equally harmful feelings and behaviors. Cognitive restructuring interventions help clients free themselves from these dangerous belief patterns.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy originates from “behaviorism,” a theory that assumes our behaviors are learned, and can therefore be “unlearned” or modified. This mode of therapy seeks to identify destructive behavioral patterns that may cause or intensify problems. Once problematic behaviors are identified, individuals work to replace them with healthier alternatives.

Behavioral therapy includes learning new coping mechanisms for demanding situations, such as stressful events or periods of depression and/or anxiety. As it relates to substance use and co-occurring disorders, a destructive behavioral pattern might involve an individual with an anxiety disorder who uses substances like drugs or alcohol to feel less anxious.

During behavioral therapy, the individual learns to recognize this destructive behavioral pattern and works to replace it with healthier coping mechanisms, like engaging in self-care, reaching out to a support network, or taking proper medications as prescribed and when appropriate.

What Are Examples of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT helps individuals identify and change destructive thought patterns and the resulting behaviors that complicate their lives or put strain on their relationships. By replacing negative thoughts with more realistic, accurate beliefs, individuals can think more clearly and exert greater levels of control over their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Destructive thought patterns can result in “self-fulfilling prophecies,” in which our negative beliefs about a situation cause us to behave in ways that bring those negative expectations to fruition.

As an example, if we erroneously believe that a person dislikes us, we may behave coldly toward them, which in turn could cause that person to truthfully dislike us. This, of course, only confirms and strengthens our initial negative belief, which can make us feel badly about ourselves. In time, we may begin to over-generalize this thought pattern into a belief that most people do not like us and apply the same counter-productive behaviors to future interactions with others, damaging our social relationships.

CBT encourages challenging negative beliefs and replacing them with positive or neutral beliefs, like considering whether a person is simply having a difficult day, rather than assuming they dislike us. As a result, we may behave kindlier toward the person in question. This is more likely to result in a positive or neutral response, rather than creating a negative outcome.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at Gaudenzia

Find “CBT near me” at Gaudenzia. Our treatment model uses an evidence-based, person-centered treatment approach to help individuals and families break the cycle of substance use and co-occurring disorders. 

At Gaudenzia, we blend Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy with Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy model in both individual and group therapy interventions. Gaudenzia helps clients recognize, challenge, and restructure risky thought patterns into more helpful, self-promoting thought patterns.  This is followed up by a series of skills transfer, where adaptive coping and social skills are applied as a re-learned behavioral repertoire.

Gaudenzia provides trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and culturally responsive care.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357).

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