Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common form of therapy that addresses the connections between thoughts, feeling, and behaviors. It recognizes that people often have deeply embedded beliefs and thoughts about themselves and the world that can essentially be harmful. CBT works to change those beliefs and thoughts in clients so that they are making healthier choices.
You might see why this is incredibly useful in addiction treatment. It’s very common for people to turn to drugs and alcohol because of certain beliefs or thought patterns they have. For instance, when life gets rough and if someone has the belief or thought that they cannot handle the way their life is going, that person might resort to having a drink as a result. Or it’s common for people to turn to marijuana as a way to soothe their anxiety. This is especially true if they have the belief that without marijuana, life will be too stressful.
Another belief or thought pattern that can get people drinking is unworthiness. When someone thinks less of themselves, when they tend to have little self-confidence and low self-worth, they may make the choice to harm themselves by getting drunk or high frequently. This is common with early experiences of trauma or neglect, when someone might have gotten the message that their lives are not of value. Thoughts having to do with self-hatred frequently can drive frequent use of substances and lead to addiction.
These are two examples of thought patterns that can lead to harmful behavior. The point of CBT is to examine those harmful thoughts so that a person might better choices for themselves. The therapy can invite a person to become very specific about the types of thoughts they are having. For instance, a person working with a CBT therapist might be asked to write down a harmful thought, when they experienced this thought, whether there was a trigger to the thought, and whether there was a feeling that resulted from the thought. Of course, diving into your thoughts and behaviors, although may require a significant amount of trust with a therapist, can be incredibly life-changing.
And one reason why the therapy works so well is because the modality includes more than just looking at thoughts. It also involves changing your thoughts. For instance, if you notice yourself thinking, “I’m worthless”, when someone criticizes you, CBT would invite you to stop and change that thought. For instance, once you recognize that you had that thought in that particular situation, you have the opportunity to change it. Instead of thinking “I’m worthless,” you might say to yourself:
I did that well. I know that I might need to polish up on some of my work, but that doesn’t make me a failure!
The difference can be staggering! As you can imagine, saying to yourself, “I’m worthless,” will trigger all sorts of feelings and behavior. While saying, “I did that well,” will trigger completely different feelings and behavior. The thoughts we have in our minds can have a drastic influence on our lives! And this is the difference that CBT therapists aim to achieve in their clients.
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