As our understanding of mental health conditions has improved, the therapeutic community has come to depend on proven therapeutic approaches in mental health care. One of these approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that focuses on a patient’s mental processes alongside their thoughts and feelings.
During CBT therapy sessions, patients learn to identify harmful thinking patterns, at which point they can better manage them, which translates into curbing harmful behaviors.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
As a method of treating mental disorders, including addiction issues, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, cognitive behavioral therapy involves changing one’s thinking patterns.
Extensive research suggests that CBT holds practical advantages in improving a wide range of mental conditions over other types of therapy and even medications. When used in conjunction with medications, CBT has been shown to be even more effective.
In the 1960s, psychiatrist Aaron Beck began noticing that many of his patients engaged in internal dialogues with themselves. These dialogues often included negative thoughts and feelings the patients directed at themselves that, in turn, affected their moods and emotions.
Because Beck focused on the patients’ thinking, he initially described his approach as “cognitive therapy.” He believed that if he could change thought processes, he could help patients overcome their issues.
His approach worked, and studies since its development have borne this out. Among many others, a Boston University study in 2012 found that CBT, when applied to several mental health disorders, showed higher success rates than other forms of psychotherapy.
Researchers medically reviewed CBT’s efficacy in treating bipolar, depressive, and anxiety disorders, among others. The BU study found CBT to be an effective option for these conditions but showed that its best used to treat:
- Anger issues
- Anxiety disorders
- High stress levels
- Somatoform disorders
CBT differs from, say, talk therapy as it strives to identify harmful thought patterns. Once the patient can recognize a negative or distorted thought, CBT aims to give them the tools to address and “undo” that thought. With continued practice, the patient can reduce or even eliminate the recurrence of those negative thoughts.
We can use the same approach to treat behavioral problems by addressing the thinking patterns driving those habits. These issues can influence a patient’s psychological state, leading to mental health challenges, or they can themselves be rooted in existing psychological conditions.
By addressing how one looks at problems, CBT aims to rewrite patterns of thinking and behavior over a period of time. In many cases, a therapist can help guide a patient through CBT to make successful changes in their thinking patterns. Over time, that can alter behavior and lead to better coping mechanisms and a more satisfying life.
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Benefits of CBT
Studies involving CBT have shown several benefits that stand as tangible improvements in the lives of psychotherapy patients.
The most significant advantage of cognitive therapy may lie in its ability to promote more rational thinking in patients. Someone with various thinking disorders might experience distractions and distress due to thoughts and patterns they may feel they have no control over.
A common thinking problem called distorted thoughts can wreak havoc on a person’s mental state. Over time, these reactions become automatic and cause distress.
For instance, if a patient bakes a tray of cookies, gets distracted, and ends up burning them, distorted thinking might lead them to think, “I’m a terrible baker.” Their baking ability has little to do with being distracted and leaving the cookies in for too long. They simply made a mistake, but distorted thoughts can translate a simple misstep into disaster in their mind.
They might further think they can’t do anything right, that they’re worthless, that everything they touch gets ruined, and on and on.
To an onlooker, these seem like extreme conclusions to draw from one burned batch of cookies, but to an individual with distorted ways of thinking, they seem perfectly logical. As a result, they may have low self-esteem and little inclination to try anything new.
By gaining conscious control of their thought patterns, one can leave distorted thoughts behind and stop feeling defined by them.
Low self-esteem can cause real problems in a patient’s life. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy, a lack of control over one’s life, and the inability to trust oneself.
A Dartmouth Medical School study showed that low self-esteem occurs more often in specific demographics, including women, Hispanics, and individuals with obesity. However, these groups are not the only ones afflicted with low self-esteem, as it can occur in just about anyone.
Low self-esteem can contribute to the recurrence of negative thinking and distorted thoughts, as it can often lead people to compare themselves (however unfairly) to those around them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help break low self-esteem patterns by addressing the thinking processes involved, disrupting them, and replacing them with healthier forms of self-talk.
Hope for the Future
As someone utilizing CBT begins seeing results from the changes in their thought patterns and, by extension, their mental health, they very often feel hope. Since many self-destructive habits stem from distorted thinking, when CBT plays a role in changing those patterns, the behaviors subside while problem-solving skills are developed.
By learning that one’s thoughts do not always represent reality, a person can begin feeling better about the world around them and what their place in it may be.
When you understand how your thoughts work—and how they are under your control—your entire belief system changes. In particular, you gain different perspectives on how you (and the real world) view yourself.
CBT involves learning to identify negative thoughts and realizing that our feelings about something are not facts. Just because you believe you are worthless doesn’t make it a fact. Simply believing that everyone hates you doesn’t make it accurate.
So, instead of a cycle of negative thoughts influencing behavior, you gain positive ones. CBT can disrupt unhealthy patterns—and help you develop more confidence in your abilities.
What CBT Can Treat
Since CBT focuses on thought patterns to adjust and modify behaviors, it works as a treatment for multiple mental illnesses and mood disorders.
Anxiety disorders result from fears usually out of proportion to the situation or thing sitting at the root of the anxiety. Some levels of anxiety are normal in life, but when it begins interfering with day-to-day activities, it could be a disorder. CBT works to show the patient how to recognize the roots of the anxiety, alter the associated thought patterns, and develop healthy coping skills.
A central part of bipolar disorders involves the aftermath of episodes. CBT can help a person deal healthily with the feelings of guilt that may occur following a manic episode, for instance.
The treatment can assist someone with bipolar disorder in recognizing the mental health conditions precipitating an episode, which could lessen or prevent associated behaviors.
As one of the most common mental disorders, depression can have a devastating impact. A therapist can guide a patient through depressive episodes by using CBT to identify and alter thought processes that fuel depression.
CBT is used for both situational and chemical depression. In the latter, studies show that CBT in conjunction with medication works better than meds alone.
Since many eating disorders have roots in a distorted perception of self, CBT stands as a singularly effective method of treating them.
CBT is one of the most effective options for treating bulimia because the disorder has at its root the patient’s mistaken perception that they are overweight or otherwise shaped in a way that cultural ideals deem improper.
Allowing a patient to identify and confront these misperceptions sets them on a path to changing the unhealthy behaviors intrinsic to an eating disorder like bulimia.
To treat phobias, which are generally irrational fears not grounded in reality, therapists sometimes employ exposure therapy to support a patient in overcoming that fear.
Exposure therapy is a form of CBT. A therapist will gradually increase the patient’s proximity to or involvement with the object of the phobia to lessen the anxiety responses. By demonstrating that their fears are misplaced, therapists may eliminate, or at least lessen, the phobia.
This approach works by encouraging the patient to recognize the irrational nature of the fear in question. Essentially, that fear is a type of distorted thinking. For instance, a fear of snakes can be assuaged when the patient comes to recognize that whatever they perceive about the reptiles is probably untrue or highly unlikely.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
In treating PTSD, therapists use CBT to reduce symptoms by helping patients recognize distorted thoughts associated with PTSD. For instance, a war veteran might associate loud noises with the explosions, violence, and horror they experienced on the battlefield.
However, it’s distorted thinking to assume that every loud noise away from the front lines indicates imminent harm and destruction.
Professionals might also employ a form of therapy akin to exposure therapy, in which the patient recounts the trauma in a safe environment to experience a feeling of control over what’s happening.
Other mental conditions which CBT has successfully treated include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Sexual disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Substance use disorders
Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Since medical science continues trending more and more toward evidence-based conclusions, we can quantify the effectiveness of CBT. Indeed, we’ve already referred to several studies investigating different aspects of CBT and the patients using it.
By helping patients identify and change harmful thoughts, CBT allows for a better quality of life in patients who can gain some control of destructive thoughts.
As CBT has developed since the 20th century, therapists have applied scientific methods to create CBT treatment regimens for specific disorders. Since not every mental disorder or illness manifests the same or affects the same parts of a patient’s life, different CBT approaches can offer more nuanced support.
No matter the issue to which a therapist applies CBT, the protocol aims to do the same things:
- Reduce a patient’s symptoms
- Improve the way a patient functions
- Effect a remission in the patient’s disorder
As the treatment addresses thoughts and behaviors, CBT techniques can improve mental health, raise self-esteem, and engender feelings of well-being.
Why Do We Use CBT in Addiction Treatment?
As substance use disorders affect as many as 30 percent of Americans, treatments for them play large roles in the success and recovery of those suffering.
Since many addiction issues stem from using drugs and alcohol in response to stressful situations or to deal with ongoing trauma, CBT can enable an individual to better understand why they abuse substances.
Addressing the psychological roots of addiction issues can be effective in challenging the physical dependence someone may have developed.
One of CBT’s main approaches in addiction treatment is to help the patient reframe their experience with the substance. CBT can give a patient the means to focus on, for instance, the aftermath of substance abuse rather than the fleeting feelings associated with drug or alcohol use.
A therapist might encourage an individual to realize that the pain of a hangover or the long-lasting effects of an accident or a DUI-related arrest outweigh the good feelings they may have while drinking. The immediate effects of alcohol fade relatively quickly, but an arrest can echo for the rest of the patient’s life.
Changing thinking patterns is key to managing an addiction problem. CBT techniques can make a real difference in treatment.
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Irrespective of what psychological issue you or a loved one may be experiencing, the clinically proven benefits of CBT can be a valuable tool for managing and overcoming anxiety disorders, mental illness, addiction, depression, and anxiety, and other negative emotions and behaviors.
At our Anaheim Treatment Center in Southern California, you can find effective treatment through cognitive behavioral therapy. We can help you identify the mental or addiction issues you may face, provide professional medical advice, and begin your long- or short-term therapy plan—all covered by your health insurance. Take time today to manage your mental health by contacting us here in Anaheim, California.
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