What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy shown in peer-reviewed studies to help people recover from their psychological problems. 

In this post, we discuss what it is, how it works, and what conditions it can treat. Read on to find out.

What is CBT?

Unlike traditional psychotherapy, CBT does not delve into a person’s childhood and developmental history. Instead, it focuses on modifying unhelpful ways of thinking  and behaviors in the present. 

At the core of CBT are two assumptions: 

  • That psychological problems are partly a consequence of unhelpful thinking patterns and unhelpful behaviors
  • People with psychological issues can learn new thinking patterns that can relieve symptoms and allow them to live more rewarding and fulfilling lives

Therapists may also engage in standard practices demonstrated to improve symptoms, such as exposure therapy for PTSD clients. 

What disorders and conditions does CBT help?

CBT is a highly versatile form of talk therapy used in clinical settings to treat a host of mild to severe mental health disorders. Your mental health practitioner may recommend CBT if you have: 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • An eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa
  • Sleep disorders
  • Alcohol and drug substance use disorder/dependence
  • Relationship problems
  • Severe mental health problems
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

How does CBT work?

CBT works by using talk-based techniques that change and improve thinking patterns. Strategies might include: 

  • Developing a greater sense of confidence in one’s ability to make productive, helpful and effective decisions 
  • Improving one’s understanding of the behavior and motivations of others
  • Gaining new problem-solving skills to address some of life’s more challenging situations
  • Learning how to recognize one’s own troubled thinking patterns and how to look at them from a healthier perspective

CBT also makes regular use of techniques designed to change behavior. These include: 

  • Deep breathing and other techniques to calm the body and mind, shutting down the fight-or-flight response
  • Role playing to prepare oneself for challenging or difficult situations (such as being offered drugs when one has a history of dependence)
  • Facing fears instead of hiding away or avoiding them

Pros and cons of CBT

As with any type of therapy, CBT has both pros and cons. 

The pros are: 

  • CBT is similarly effective at treating the symptoms of some mental health disorders as drugs
  • CBT takes only a few weeks to complete – perhaps as little as ten one-hour sessions – unlike other forms of psychotherapy which may require up to five sessions a week for several years
  • The focus adjusts to the individual and their needs. CBT for a person with phobias is different from a client struggling with alcohol addiction
  • Skills learned in CBT sessions are useful for real-world situations
  • Medication can enhance the effect of CBT
  • CBT is useful for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds

However, there are some downsides to CBT. 

  • CBT depends on the willingness of the client to put strategies into practice
  • Therapy requires clients to do work between sessions, perhaps 1-2 extra hours per day, to get the most out of their course
  • CBT doesn’t work so well on clients with learning difficulties or disabilities, such as autism

CBT and helping with addiction

People living with alcohol and substance addiction can struggle with negative emotions and unhelpful thoughts that can make recovery more challenging. CBT may support this process by replacing these entrenched and counterproductive thoughts with ones that are more adaptive and positive. 

CBT helps clients with addiction specifically by: 

  • Teaching them how to identify destructive thought patterns
  • Finding ways to help them monitor such patterns
  • Learning new ways of thinking to replace old modes of thought
  • Developing new skills to manage situations where relapse might become a risk
  • Exploring new ways to deal with stress and anxiety that might lie behind the clients’ addiction problems.

Research shows that CBT for addiction is highly effective. Studies found that 60 percent of people treated with cognitive behavioral therapy were able to maintain their substance-free status for more than 12 months. 

Peaks Recovery is Here to Help

If you, or someone you know, needs CBT for addiction or substance use disorder, get in touch with our team today. We offer a range of specialist cognitive behavioral therapy programs designed to help lift clients out of hurtful habits and put their lives back on track.