If you are someone struggling with a behavioral issue (e.g., using substances in a problematic way) or a mood issue (e.g., panic attacks, depression), it’s likely that someone in your life, at some point, will encourage you to seek therapy. And if you are brave enough to want to make changes and think that it might be helpful to talk to someone about how to go about doing that, it can be daunting to take the next step and find a therapist. The reality is that there are lots of treatment options with different names, and acronyms, for treatments and it can be tough to make heads or tails of it all!
One kind of therapy which gets mentioned a lot is “CBT,” or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This therapy is very well researched over the years, and has been shown to be very effective at helping people change behaviors and reduce uncomfortable symptoms, like depression and anxiety. This is not to say that other treatments don’t work well, just that CBT has a large evidence base to back it up.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is rooted in several core beliefs about how human beings function in the world and how behavioral change happens, including the beliefs that
- Humans continue to engage in behaviors that are somehow reinforced, meaning they “work” in some way.
- That we avoid things that are not reinforced or things that are linked with punishment
- That our internal thoughts (cognitions) and feelings have an impact our behaviors and that
- We can monitor and change our thoughts and learn skills to manage our feelings
CBT and the various therapies that fall under its umbrella focus on the link between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It teaches you how to assess your thoughts for accuracy and adaptability (e.g., do I really need to use in response to this craving?), and increase your awareness of feelings (e.g., am I mad or scared?), and how these thoughts and feelings impact our behaviors (e.g., if I believe I cannot tolerate anxiety then I will make attempts to make it go away) and the reinforcement we get for our behaviors (e.g., when I drink my anxiety goes away).
If you choose to work with a CBT therapist they will typically focus on target behaviors for change, and help you understand how your thought patterns might be influencing your feelings and behavioral choices. They will also be active in teaching you new behavioral strategies and new ways to relate to your thoughts and feelings. They will encourage you to practice of the new behaviors – both in session and outside of session. The goal is to help new skills and behaviors be more generalizable, meaning that over time and practice, you can learn to use them across a variety of situations. For instance, if you happen to be someone targeting panic and fear of enclosed spaces, when you learn to tolerate the anxiety that comes along with being in a crowded elevator, you can take the next step and tolerate the anxiety of a crowded subway car.
CBT also focuses on habituation, or the idea that if we let ourselves experience feelings (anxiety, for example) without fleeing the situation or doing something to compensate (like having a drink), over time we’ll learn that the anxiety is tolerable and it will actually get less intense. Similarly, you can learn to “urge surf” and ride the wave of a craving instead of giving into it and over time the cravings will get less intense. This is just like if you’re sitting in a room where the clock ticks loudly: at first it might be really annoying! But as you spend more time in the room, the ticking fades into the background of your mind until you might not notice it much at all.
When considering CBT therapy or a CBT therapist, it can be helpful to ask how that person thinks about helping with behavior change, what sessions would look like, and would there be homework. This can help you assess both goodness of fit with the therapist and also whether CBT work is something you’re open to trying.
Source: Center for Motivation & Change (used with permission)
I would like to learn CBT and to talk to others who want to recover.
Can you recommend any good CBT therapist in the NE Ohio area special in alcohol abuse?
It’s good to know more about behavioral therapy. I like how you said that it’s used to help people change behaviors and even help with depression and anxiety. My wife is suffering from an addiction, and it’s making her anxious, so this sounds perfect for her.
Please join us at a meeting – we have SMART Recovery meetings that would make sense for your wife, as well as Family & Friends meetings that would make sense for you as a concerned significant other. Find meeting locations by clicking on the Meetings tab at the top of our website. We also have online meetings that you can join if you’d like to test them out and see what they’re all about. Click on Online Community at the top of our website to sign up. Let us know how we can help in your family’s journey.
It’s amazing to see family and friends also reaching out. I’m in recovery and learned that a hard life isn’t the answer- education on the issues to help your loved ones conquer this battle with less heartache is definitely the way to go. Your family is blessed and I pray her recovery goes well.
I appreciate that you explained how cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help people change their behavior to better cope with depression and anxiety. My husband suffers on and off from both, but I don’t know what advice to give him or how to help. I think that seeing a therapist for this sort of therapy would really do him some good.
I’d like to learn more about cbt.
Is there an app that you can use?
Yes, thank you for asking. There is an app you can use. It is CheckUp & Choices. You can read more about this here – https://smartwww.wpengine.com/checkup-and-choices/
I am very interested in these chats and have studied in this field a while back. I do know that a lot of my actions come from exactly what this CBT treatment helps with. I need to be guided through the process,, even though makes me feel like I’m lacking something in adulthood.. I’m gonna drop all pride and come to this open minded. Thank u for your time in advance
Hello Rhonda, you can find a meeting at http://www.smartrecovery.org/community
I am looking for the CBT workbook of thoughts, which I once had. I used the program to stop smoking 8 years ago and now I want to use it for something else. If anyone can help.