How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

man in cognitive behavioral therapy session

Ever wondered how our behaviors, those quirks and habits we carry, are wired into our daily lives? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) explores the way we react to stress to the habits we cling to. But what makes CBT so powerful? It emphasizes the brain’s remarkable capacity to unlearn, rewire, and transform. So, how exactly does this transformative process work? Let’s find out.

An Overview of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT teaches you how to spot tricky thoughts that might not be true (like when you think everyone’s laughing at you), and then shows you how to change those thoughts into more helpful ones (like realizing that maybe they’re not laughing at all!).

It’s not just about thoughts, though. CBT also helps you practice doing things differently when you feel worried or scared. It’s like having a secret power to face fears or worries, step by step, until they don’t seem as scary anymore.

The principles defining CBT include:

  • Cognitive restructuring, or fixing tricky thoughts. This involves identifying and challenging negative ways of thinking and beliefs contributing to emotional distress. Sometimes, the brain gets tangled up with thoughts that aren’t true, making you feel sad or worried. CBT helps you spot these tricky thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones, like changing “I’m not good enough” to “I can do my best.”
  • Behavioral activation, or changing actions. This occurs when clients work to change behaviors contributing to problems they’re experiencing. CBT also helps you change things you do that make you feel upset. Like if you’re scared of something, CBT teaches you how to slowly face it, a bit like leveling up in a video game, until it doesn’t scare you as much.
  • Problem-solving skills, like breaking challenges into more manageable parts, creating solutions for the parts, and evaluating their effectiveness. CBT teaches you to break big problems into smaller ones. You figure out ways to fix each part and see if they work, a bit like solving a mystery.
  • Homework. This form of therapy often includes homework assignments between sessions. Just like how you practice soccer or math, CBT gives you fun activities to do at home. These activities help you practice the skills you’re learning in therapy, making your brain stronger.

CBT is goal-oriented and a collaborative process between a therapist and the client. It’s usually time-limited and focused on measurable results. It’s considered short-term and solution-focused. It’s not forever; it’s about getting results and feeling better in a short time.

What Is the Process of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Some key components are involved in CBT, although they vary depending on the client, the therapist, and what’s being treated. Generally, what you might expect during this type of behavioral therapy includes:

  • An initial assessment led by your therapist to understand your symptoms, concerns, and background. From there, you can collaboratively set goals for your therapy, guiding the focus of your sessions.
  • Psychoeducation, meaning they help you understand how CBT works and the role of cognitive and behavioral patterns in substance abuse and mental health.
  • A strong, trusting relationship between you and your therapist. You’re a team in this process, so open communication is needed.
  • Identifying thoughts and beliefs, often through varied techniques like thought records or journals. These are a way for you to track and then examine your thoughts.
  • Behavioral interventions are introduced. These could include learning and practicing new skills or implementing behavioral experiences.
  • Homework, which is almost always a part of the process.
  • Regular monitoring and feedback. Adjustments may be needed based on the effectiveness of interventions.
  • Relapse prevention plan as your therapy progresses.

Your active participation is critical to CBT, and there’s an emphasis on developing practical skills you’ll be able to apply in your daily life. There is a structure to the process, but how this structure is applied is flexible and tailored to you as an individual.

How CBT Helps Treat Substance Use Disorders

CBT is considered an evidence-based approach to treat addiction. It can help people overcome addiction, and it promotes sustained recovery. The ways CBT contributes to treatment and recovery in addiction include:

  • Identifying and challenging distorted thoughts. There are often distorted thoughts and beliefs contributing to addictive behaviors. These can include rationalizing behaviors, justifying them, or negative self-talk. These are all things that continue the cycle of addiction.
  • Understanding high-risk situations and triggers. When you understand the specific scenarios that could lead to relapse, you can develop coping strategies to navigate them more effectively.
  • The development of coping skills. Through CBT, you can learn coping skills for the management of stress and negative emotions and challenging situations that don’t rely on substance use.
  • CBT therapists can conduct functional analysis to explore the things that came before your substance use, as well as the behaviors and consequences associated with it. A functional analysis helps you get insight into the patterns and motivations of addiction so the cycle can be disrupted.
  • Since CBT is goal-oriented, you can break down the larger goal of sobriety and recovery into more manageable steps that make the recovery process less daunting and more achievable.
  • Relapse prevention planning is emphasized in CBT. This involves the identification of possible triggers, creating coping strategies, and building a support network.
  • Improved self-efficacy. CBT helps individuals increase their belief in their ability to change and be successful in their recovery without turning to substances.
  • Very often, people with addictions have co-occurring mental health disorders. CBT can help address those as well as substance use disorders.
  • Promoting lifestyle changes is a tenant of CBT. You can learn how to improve relationships, spend your free time, and improve your general well-being for a more fulfilling, substance-free life.

CBT is often used with many other therapeutic approaches but is a cornerstone of addiction treatment.

If you’d like to learn more about our individualized approach to addiction treatment at San Diego Detox, contact our team today. We are a luxury center with a medically trained clinical team, 24-hour nursing, and well-appointed amenities. Contact us today to take the first step toward recovery now.