What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

For individuals struggling with an addiction to alcohol, drugs or prescription pills, therapy plays a critical role in the recovery process. It empowers people of all ages and walks of life to gain a new perspective on their addiction as a chronic disease, develop self-love and establish healthy coping strategies. Among the most popular and effective therapies used in the treatment of addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly known as CBT for short. This type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) is evidence-based and can play a significant role in an individual’s ability to overcome self-destructive thoughts and behavioral patterns. Learn more about it and how it works below.


This type of talk therapy was created by Dr. Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s. At first, he was attempting to validate psychoanalytical concepts among depressed individuals but found no success. In an effort to conceptualize the condition, he began to explore the idea that automatic thoughts could be contributing to his patients’ depression. Beck shifted his focus on helping patients identify and ultimately replace their negative automatic thoughts with healthy alternatives. As a result, cognitive behavioral therapy was born.

Since its introduction, it has tested over 1,000 times in various studies and integrated into the treatment of countless conditions such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders and addiction. It is ideal for people of all ages and backgrounds making it easy to integrate into any lifestyle.

The Basics

Since CBT is different than traditional types of talk therapy, it requires a highly skilled and specialized therapist. After all, it does not rely on positive suggestions alone like talk therapy. Instead, it focuses on establishing rapport with clients in order to build a trusting and open relationship before moving on to allowing clients to talk about themselves, their challenges and their addiction.

Once a therapist has gathered enough rapport and information, he or she may move on to working with the client to pinpoint negative thought and behavioral patterns that have contributed to their condition. Therapists are capable of presenting these harmful patterns clearly so clients can see exactly how they have impacted them.

The next step in the process is to determine the best coping mechanisms for each client. Since everyone is unique and has varying needs, therapists will ensure that these skills are useful and doable for each person. If they cannot commit to using them, they will not be able to effectively work through their harmful thinking and behavioral patterns.

Therapists also help clients to replace negative automatic thoughts with more positive ones. For example, a client may begin to experience low self-esteem right before feeling the urge to use harmful substances. Once this automatic thought is identified, he or she will be taught to replace it with more accurate and positive ones such as reminding him or herself that they have overcome many challenges in life.

Homework may be assigned to clients during therapy to help dig deeper into the topics discussed and develop a better understanding of the concepts. Since CBT is goal-orientated, assignments will typically progress in a structured format. In addition to this, other tools such as activities and developing new hobbies and interests are often integrated as well.


Most clients can anticipate participating in therapy during the entire course of their rehabilitation. However, it is typically conducted on a weekly or biweekly basis. Most sessions last around one to two hours and may be conducted on an individual basis or in a group format. Sessions are typically supplemented with educational materials such as worksheets and homework assignments. Therapists may also use goal setting to help clients work towards milestones more efficiently over the course of treatment. Therapy is highly structured and may follow a set schedule to ensure that all topics are approached appropriately.

Ongoing participation after the treatment phase can benefit some individuals. However, many simply transition into individual counseling for maintenance and as part of an aftercare strategy. Therapy is a useful tool for anyone in treatment for a substance use problem but is especially beneficial for those with a dual diagnosis. This term refers to the presence of both a substance use disorder and mental illness.

Led by a skilled therapist, therapy is capable of not only addressing underlying problems that contributed to the formation of addiction in the first place but also prevent relapse and help clients develop a brighter and fairer outlook on themselves and their goals. As a result, it can be critical for relapse prevention.

Cognitive behavioral therapy remains one of the core types of therapies used to treat addiction, and for good reasons. It serves as an excellent starting point in the process of healing from self-destructive behaviors and thought processes. To learn more about it or get started on the path to recovery, contact us today.