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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that involves examining the relationship between one’s thoughts, or cognition, and one’s actions or behavior. CBT involves identifying negative, distorted, and/or automatic thoughts, recognizing them as harmful, and replacing them with more helpful and accurate thoughts instead. Many rehabilitation centers teach coping skills borrowed from CBT, which can be quite an effective tool in the toolbox of someone working to achieve sobriety from an alcohol addiction, or an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

What’s The History Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist who was seeking a new way to reach patients struggling with depression and who had found traditional inroads ineffective. CBT was profoundly influenced by rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), a similar school of thought developed by psychologist Albert Ellis and based around the idea that unpleasant and maladaptive moods and behaviors stem from illogical and inaccurate thoughts.

Nowadays CBT has been the subject of thousands of studies and has been practiced by hundreds of thousands of therapists, with one study even calling it, “arguably the gold standard of the psychotherapy field.” It’s become incredibly popular in rehabs across the country, partly because of the wide range of disorders and conditions that CBT is able to treat, some of which are listed below.

What Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help With?

CBT has been studied and deemed to be effective for a wide variety of conditions, especially when combined with other methods of treatment. Some of the conditions CBT could be used to treat may include:

  • Anger issues
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders

Because of the relationship between CBT and the mind, it’s a form of therapy especially effective in conditions that involve obtrusive or troubling thoughts. Replacing these unhealthy thoughts with healthy alternatives often involves identifying and replacing cognitive distortions, which are listed below.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thought that are needlessly negative or inaccurate. Some common cognitive distortions include:

  • Emotional Reasoning. This involves interpreting one’s feelings erroneously as facts. For example, just because one feels overwhelmed or anxious does not mean a situation is unmanageable – it merely means one’s emotions are heightened, which will likely pass.
  • Generalizing. This is when one isolated incident wrongly becomes a trend in one’s mind and is often facilitated by the use of “always” or “never.” For example, one could become stuck in a temporary traffic jam and wonder: “Why does this always happen to me?”
  • Mind Reading. Potentially a familiar phenomenon for some, mind reading involves acting as though one already knows the thoughts and feelings of another without asking. This could include imagining a rejection from a potential romantic partner or envisioning a negative response from a prospective employer.
  • Misusing “Should.” Misusing the word “should” can be an insidious cognitive distortion. Examples may include thinking one “should” lose weight or that one “should” have done better on a test. This is overly idealistic, perfectionist thinking at its worst – and one can adopt a less judgmental, more encouraging worldview by eschewing use of the word “should.”
  • Labeling. Labeling is when one puts oneself or others into sharply-defined categories that don’t allow room for nuance or growth. For example, one might use the labels “idiot,” or “hater,” or “failure” to describe people. These words are fraught with emotion, and don’t objectively mean much, but they’re certainly a good way to stoke anger, depression, and anxiety when used too often.
  • Personalization. This involves blaming oneself as the sole cause for an incident that may have had many different varied factors and moving parts. For example, if one’s house burns down, one might blame oneself (“If I hadn’t been so careless, this never would have happened!”) rather than attribute responsibility to other factors like the age of the home, the heat and dryness of the summer season, and the fireworks that the neighbor kids were launching next door.

There are more cognitive distortions than those listed above, and many activities based around identifying and correcting cognitive distortions are freely available online. As a good rule of thumb, usually when one component of a situation is blown wildly out of proportion, or when one acts as though they have information that they do not really have, it’s a hallmark of a cognitive distortion and a good opportunity to slow down, correct one’s thinking, and proceed more mindfully and objectively instead.

What Are The Limitations Of CBT?

Therapy is largely subjective, and no one school of thought will be the perfect match for every individual. Cognitive behavioral therapy is certainly not without its limitations: one study, for example, found that interpersonal therapy worked better than CBT for the treatment of depression. Meanwhile, some specialists make the case that relatively complicated disorders, like borderline personality disorder for example, may not be an effective pairing with cognitive behavioral therapy. Overall, more studies need to be done on how CBT stacks up with other forms of therapy. Of course, it’s not as though it’s a competition between various different treatment modalities: patients can and should explore many different forms of treatment during the course of their recovery.

Addressing Negative Thoughts And Feelings

It’s never pleasant feeling like the prisoner of negative thoughts in your own mind. If you’re interested in cognitive behavioral therapy because you want to get a handle on your mental health or an AUD, don’t wait to take action. Contact a treatment provider today to discuss treatment options.

  • Author: William Henken | Last Updated: June 30, 2022

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    William Henken

    Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

  • Medical Reviewer: Deborah Montross Nagel

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