It’s been said that “we are what we think.” The 2015 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary defines “cognitive” as “of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities.” Indeed, the cognitive patterns in our mind, whether we want them to exist there or not, have a strong influence on our emotions, behaviors and really our lives in their entirety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which we will refer to as CBT) is a form of mental therapy that employs the power within to reshape behavioral patterns.
Clinical trials and scientific research prove time and again the success of CBT in overcoming many disorders, including abuse disorders and addictions. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recognizes it as a legitimate tactic for drug recovery. They comment that “cognitive-behavioral strategies are based on the theory that in the development of maladaptive behavioral patterns like substance abuse, learning processes play a critical role.” Let’s see how.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Counseling – How it Works
Cognitive therapy seeks to instill problem-solving skills for real life. Distorted thinking is replaced with positivism, modifying beliefs to enhance beneficial behaviors. It is based on the connection that our perception of a situation, not the situation itself, has the strongest emotional influence and behavioral effect on us.
By exposing circumstances as being not critical elements of desperation or joy, and then helping a patient to evaluate the reality of distressing thoughts, a cognitive therapist makes difficult problems more livable. Self-control is enhanced as patients learn methods of self-monitoring and cause-and-effect reasoning patterns. Cravings are analyzed within a cognitive model, and patients train themselves to think through alternatives to indulgence and relapses, even creating solutions to their triggers.
Dr. Judith Beck, president at Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy explains how patients are trained to cognitively respond to inaccurate and unhelpful ideas. “The basic question to ask when a patient is reporting a distressing situation, emotion, or dysfunctional behavior is, ‘What is going through your mind right now?’ Once we help patients identify their dysfunctional thinking, we help them gain more adaptive and accurate perspectives, especially by helping them examine the validity and usefulness of their thoughts.”
What to Expect in a CBT Experience
In a CBT counseling session, therapists will ask patients to identify problems encountered recently or predict soon-to-be encountered problems. They will help the patient to identify ideas and actions that have interfered with positive actions and emotions. Therapists will show a patient how to change his or her own actions and thinking for the better next time. For this reason, a patient’s cooperation and action in his or her own treatment is critical. Small daily thinking changes will develop with each decision, and life improvement will result.
CBT as Combined Therapy for Addiction
Medication along with cognitive behavioral therapy has advantages and disadvantages, which will vary by case. “Current research focuses on how to produce even more powerful effects by combining CBT with medications for drug abuse and with other types of behavioral therapies” reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Many cognitive therapists treat without any medication. Some disorders respond well to combined treatment, although obviously a cognitive lifestyle change must still occur. A patient who desires either to stop or begin taking medication at any point during therapy may speak to a psychopharmacologist, or psychiatric consultation specialist, who will generally perform a progress analysis four to six weeks into cognitive therapy treatment and help decide if medication changes would be advisable.
Benefit to the Fullest Extent from Each CBT Session
Dr. Judith Beck explains that an important first step for any patient is to set goals. “Ask yourself, ‘How would I like to be different by the end of therapy?’” Depression, anxiety and hopelessness inventories will help a therapist to determine other factors that might be considered. Readings, workbooks and even electronic applications are available to help patients prepare for each session and meditate on previous suggestions. A patient should be honest about the extent to which he or she did or didn’t make application in response to the help previously received. It may be beneficial also to write what to discuss next time, and to take notes in written or audio format.
She reports in an interview the expected success results of this type of therapy program. “Many patients notice a decrease in their symptoms within a few weeks of therapy, or even sooner, if they have been faithfully attending sessions and doing the suggested assignments between sessions on a daily basis.” For this reason, patients do not need to feel impelled to purchase a large number of sessions at the beginning of therapy. They may choose to sample some short term counseling and analyze the effects. Depending on their emotional and behavioral results after a brief period, they might want to discontinue therapy but still apply the principles learned in their everyday lives thereafter. In fact, the goal of a cognitive therapist should be to wean the patient into self-support as soon as possible!
Thinking it Through – Is CBT for You?
Interestingly, many patients who would be greatly benefited by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy doubt that it would work for them. They may write the idea of improvement off as something that is just too overwhelming. Although there is no guarantee for improvement in every situation, countless success stories support strongly the potential benefits.
So, what is on your mind? Whatever it is, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may improve your life by showing you a new, more positive way to think about it. If you would like more information about CBT and how it can help you overcome addiction or a mental health concern, give us a call today.