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The Basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the cornerstone of many substance abuse treatment programs. It targets harmful behavioral patterns and changes them through a process of identifying, understanding, and reworking the way a person thinks and feels.

Through its focus on long-term change, CBT has helped many people develop the skills necessary to cope with urges and find healthier ways to seek pleasure. Helping your loved ones understand what CBT entails can help them take an active role in their own recovery.

CBT Is a Broad Category of Treatments

Contrary to popular belief, CBT isn’t a specific therapy, but a system of behavioral treatment that utilizes various specific treatments. These treatments include rational behavior therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and others.

An experienced clinician will identify which CBT approaches are best suited for your loved one. For example, if your loved one believes that they cannot achieve anything, CBT will help them recognize their strengths and build self-confidence thought patterns.

CBT Is Based on Theories of Logic and Education

Recovery is a learning process, so it’s natural that CBT centers on education. Most thoughts and actions are learned. CBT aims to replace undesirable default responses with healthier ones. This approach is renowned for its long-term benefits. When your loved one understands why they’re practicing a behavior and how the behavior benefits them, they gain the confidence and motivation to continue on the path to recovery.

CBT also has roots in the scientific method, which centers on hypothesis testing. For example, your loved one might hold the hypothesis that “I have no positive qualities.” CBT disproves false hypotheses, helping steer your loved one’s thinking in the right direction.

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An Effective CBT Program Depends on a Strong Patient-Therapist Relationship

If you’ve ever helped a friend settle into a new city, your role was analogous to that of a therapist. You might have taught them how to avoid traffic or how to get the best deals at a restaurant. Your friend may have had fears or questions, and you addressed them.

Afterward, your friend had the skills necessary to succeed on their own. An effective CBT program requires mutual trust, the therapist’s guidance, and the patient’s effort.

What Sets CBT Apart from Other Treatments?

The key feature of CBT is involvement. Rather than simply taking medications, the patient actively learns strategies for lifelong recovery and can direct the course of their treatment. The clinician will first help the patient better understand the nature of their addiction and how it relates to their personality, relationships, and possible co-occurring disorders.

From there, the patient and clinician work together to create a detailed plan that consists of daily assignments. The patient completes these assignments, records their progress, and learns new skills as treatment progresses.

Using New Thought Patterns for Recovery

By the end of their treatment, the patient should be ready to take charge of their recovery using the new habits and thought patterns learned. Most patients who undergo CBT display notable progress after 90 days, but individual differences and the nature of the addiction may lengthen this time.

CBT may be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments such as holistic therapy. With your understanding, love, and support, your loved one can take an active role in their recovery and overcome their substance abuse disorder. Consult your doctor or physician for more resources or to refer your loved one to an individualized treatment program.

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  1. National Association of Congitive-Behavioral Therapists, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,,

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