Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT for short, is a type of talk therapy that focuses on the psychological principles of behaviorism (which focuses on how behaviors can be controlled or modified) and epistemology (which focus on understanding how people think, feel , and understand yourself and the world around you). CBT is a psychological treatment that focuses on efforts to change patterns of thought and behavior...
How CBT Works
Behaviorism focuses on what amplifies a person’s behavior or actions, while epistemology focuses on people’s perceptions – what they see, hear, and feel – their thoughts and emotions. The human experience of knowledge includes our perceptions, thoughts, emotions and our understanding. This includes anything that comes to mind through our senses or the way we think or feel about our past experiences.
Adding analysis of cognition to behavior therapy led to the development of cognitive behavior therapy by taking into account people’s thoughts and feelings about their behavior. Instead of just observing and controlling behaviors, attention is also paid to what is going on in the person’s head and how those perceptions, thoughts, and feelings cause them to behave in certain ways.
In particular, CBT examines the relationships between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It deals with the underlying beliefs and conflicts between what we want to do and what we actually do.
Addiction is a good example of this type of conflict behavior. Although we may know that it is healthier and safer to avoid addictive behaviors and substances, we still choose to behave. This can sometimes lead to very disruptive consequences for us and other people. People with addiction may regret these behaviors, but they can be difficult to stop repeating sometimes without the person really knowing why.
Cognitive behavior therapy for addiction
Addiction is a clear example of a pattern of behavior that goes against what the person experiencing it wants to do. While people trying to overcome addictive behaviors often say that they want to change that behavior and may really want to quit alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behaviors that are causing them problems, they find it extremely difficult to do so.
Following the cognitive behavioral therapy approach, addictive behaviors such as drinking, drug use, problem gambling, compulsive shopping, video game addiction, food addiction, and other types of harmful excessive behavior are the result of inaccurate thoughts and subsequent negative feelings...
Cognitive behavioral therapy explains this by clarifying the way people’s thoughts and emotions interact. Psychologists realized that many of us have thoughts based on beliefs that are untrue, unrealistic, or impossible to fulfill. These thoughts can then produce negative feelings that fuel anxiety, depression, and conditions such as alcohol and substance use disorders.
In the treatment of addiction, CBT focuses on systematically recording thoughts, feelings associated with them, and the events that trigger those thoughts and feelings. This enables us to look at the behavior that we perform as a result of these thoughts and emotions. Once that happens, we can begin to change the automatic processes that are sabotaging our efforts to change our behavior...
CBT helps people look at patterns of thought and emotion that they experience repeatedly. Over time, they can begin to change these thoughts by consciously looking at situations in more realistic ways that do not automatically lead to negative emotions and resulting cycles of harmful behavior.
By rewarding ourselves for the healthier behavior, over time we replace this harmful behavior with the healthier behavior that is associated with more positive emotions and becomes more automatic.
CBT has an excellent track record. Numerous studies show its effectiveness in treating depression, anxiety, and other conditions, including addiction.
The CBT approaches that became popular in the late 20th century are being refined themselves and complemented by what is known as the “third wave” of behavior therapy, which focuses on mindfulness, acceptance, and being in the moment. These approaches include acceptance and attachment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and functional analytical psychotherapy.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction problems, contact the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Authority (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357 Information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.