What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

female therapist providing patient with cognitive behavioral therapy

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has become one of the most popular forms of mental health treatment in recent years. This is because CBT is based around empirical evidence, making it an evidence-based treatment (EBT). It works across a wide range of mental health issues, but is most effective at treating:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Criminal behaviors
  • Chronic pain

How CBT Works

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy gets its name from the idea that thoughts drive actions. It works by addressing a person’s thoughts – their cognitive process – to help modify their behaviors. By finding thoughts that damage their mood and perspective, the person then challenges those thoughts or replaces them with new ones. Through altering their outlook, the person can then transform their mood and mindset to one that is more useful.

Once the person identifies thoughts or beliefs which are hurtful, they then seek alternative beliefs to adopt in place of the negative ones.

Example: A person loses his or her job. While this event can be seen as negative, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to pursue new avenues, explore new interests, or seek new opportunities. By seeking a different set of beliefs, a person can literally change their mind.

CBT is particularly effective at treating addiction. It helps patients identify the reasons behind their substance use, better equipping them to combat the destructive state of mind that accompanies a relapse. They are then able to find solutions to combat cravings and helpful ideas to address the underlying causes of their addiction.

A Brief History of CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy came out of psychotherapy, frequently known as talk therapy. It is largely attributed to Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s pioneering work in the 1960s. Dr. Beck and other therapists observed that many patients were suffering due to erroneous beliefs. The theory arose that if a person’s beliefs could be altered, their mental state would improve.

Testing of this theory continues to this day, and the results have been profound. Nearly every type of mental illness is positively impacted by the use of CBT, according to extensive research. Even those with no diagnosed condition benefit from challenging beliefs or “negative thinking” which impact their mood. Clinical studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, show more constructive thinking assists anyone in living a happier, more fulfilling life.

It is this exhaustive research that puts CBT firmly in the category of evidence-based practice since it has been so thoroughly and repeatedly tested with similar results.

How to Use CBT

There are several forms of CBT. In the most popular form, a person uses the “ABC” model. In the ABC model, a person identifies an Activating event (A). They then identify their Beliefs (B) in response to the activating event. Finally, they look at the Consequences (C) surrounding the event. The idea is to determine what thoughts or beliefs create their behaviors. Writing out each step then allows the patient to review their thoughts – often with the aid of a therapist or mental health professional. The ultimate goal is to find what negative beliefs are leading to negative consequences.

CBT is best done with the assistance of a therapist. However, anyone can begin recording their thoughts and identifying patterns that are having an adverse effect on their life. Changing these thoughts may unlock a better state of mind.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises for Addiction

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises | Recovery By The Sea

Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises help individuals address negative thoughts and feelings to overcome addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used today in addiction treatment. CBT teaches people in recovery how to identify connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions and improve awareness of how they influence recovery.

Besides addiction, CBT also treats co-occurring mental health conditions such as the following:



  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)


How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises Work

To people who practice it, cognitive behavioral therapy reveals to people who practice it that many adverse behaviors and emotions are not rational or logical. Instead, these feelings and actions may be based on past experiences or environmental factors.

When a person with addiction understands why they feel or behave in a certain way, and how those feelings and actions contribute to substance use, they are more adequately equipped to overcome addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapists work with recovering addicts to identify their adverse “automatic” thoughts. Automatic thoughts are images or mental activity that occur as a response to a trigger. They ‘pop up’ in a person’s mind without conscious thought and are often derived from misconceptions and internalized self-doubt and fear.

Often, people attempt to self-medicate these unpleasant or painful thoughts and feelings by drinking alcohol or using drugs. By continually revisiting and confronting these painful memories with a therapist, recovering addicts can mitigate the pain produced by them. They can then learn new healthy behaviors to displace their drug or alcohol abuse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises and Addiction Treatment

Automatic negative thoughts are often the main cause of depression and anxiety disorders, which are disorders that commonly co-occur with addiction. This means that the presence of automatic thoughts can make a person more likely to use drugs and alcohol as well.

CBT can help patients defeat drug addiction and alcoholism by doing the following:

  • Helping to dismiss the erroneous beliefs and insecurities that contribute to substance abuse
  • Providing self-help tools to improve mood
  • Teaching effective communication skills

Cognitive behavioral therapy also helps recovering addicts cope with triggers in three fundamental ways, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Recognize – Identify circumstances that lead to drinking or drug use.

Avoid – Remove oneself from trigger situations whenever possible and appropriate.

Cope – Use CBT exercises to address and mitigate unhealthy emotions and thoughts that contribute to substance abuse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises

Cognitive behavioral therapists employ specific exercises to help facilitate addiction recovery. Examples of CBT exercises used in addiction treatment include the following:

Recording Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises | Recovery By The Sea

Recovering addicts assess automatic adverse thoughts and look for objective evidence that supports and disproves those thoughts. They record and cross-compare evidence for and against their automatic thoughts and assumptions. The goal is to help the person think more balanced, rational, and less self-critical thoughts by evaluating what they’re thinking and feeling.

Example
“My boss thinks I’m incompetent and I need to drink to feel better” is replaced with “It’s normal to make mistakes, and I can learn from this. I don’t need to drink alcohol to feel better about myself.”

Behavioral Exercises

These exercises contradict unhealthy thoughts against healthy ones to see which is more effective in altering behavior. Many individuals respond better to self-kindness than to self-criticism. Behavioral exercises are about determining what approach works best for the person.

Example
“If I’m hard on myself after excessive drinking, I’ll drink less” versus “If I am merciful to myself after excessively drinking, I’ll drink less.”

Imagery-Based Exposure

In this exercise, recovering addicts and alcoholics recall a memory that induces powerful adverse feelings. They pay attention to every sight, sound, emotion, and thought during that moment. By repeatedly revisiting unpleasant memories, over time the addicted person can decrease the anxiety caused by them.

Example
A man focuses on a painful memory from childhood. He remembers every detail and emotion at the moment. Upon repeated exposure, the memory induces less and less pain, and thereby reduces the need to self-medicate with substances.

Pleasant Activity Schedule

This exercise involves creating a weekly list of healthy and fun activities to split up daily routines. These tasks should be easy to perform while fostering positive emotions. Scheduling these enjoyable activities helps to reduce negative automatic thoughts and the corresponding need to use drugs or drink alcohol.

Example
In place of using drugs or drinking on the job, a stressed out divorce attorney relaxes at her desk for fifteen minutes every day and uses the time to listen to her favorite music.

Finding the Resources Needed to Overcome Addiction

Overcoming addiction requires the help of many people and resources. Drug addiction treatment can help you achieve sobriety and avoid relapse. Recovery By The Sea employs mental health counselors and addiction specialist who teach the life skills necessary to maintain long-term recovery.

In addition to cognitive behavior therapy, we offer individual and group counseling, peer group support, psychoeducation, and aftercare planning. Please contact us today to find out how we can help you or a loved one recover from addiction and reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve!

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