Addiction Rehabilitation Treatment Approaches: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 06/25/2021

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When you make the difficult decision to go to rehab, you can end up overwhelmed by the options. These various approaches, or modalities, can be enough to slow down your decision making process and that is the last thing that you want. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Treatment approaches and individual programs continue to evolve and diversify, and many programs today do not fit neatly into traditional drug addiction treatment classifications.” How can you ever know what to expect?

What work will you be doing? It is important to learn about different modalities because you need to find a rehab program that fits in with the philosophy you are most likely to respond to. One common approach is cognitive behavioral therapy.

The Basics

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy originally developed for treating depression. Presently, it is a very common form of therapy in rehabilitation settings. Those who suffer from addiction are often motivated by damaging thought patterns. CBT trains clients to question and examine recurrent thoughts in order to eliminate those that are unhealthy.

Cognitive behavioral theory is based on the notion that people are affected by how they think about the world; the way they think and interpret events leads to emotional responses. Therefore, CBT works to resolve current issues and to change thinking and behaviors that are problematic. This approach acknowledges that many human behaviors cannot be controlled by rational thought; instead, they arise based on previous conditioning from the environment and other stimuli (external and/or internal). CBT is utilized to deal with specific problems, and it focuses on assisting the client to choose a specific strategy with which to approach that problem.

Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy

Unlike more traditional psychoanalytical methods, where the unconscious meaning behind behaviors is used to form a diagnosis, behaviorists believe that disorders are a response to a stimulus. Often, disorders are thought to be a conditioned fear, where a feared stimulus triggers an avoidance response. Cognitive therapists believe conscious thoughts can independently affect behavior. The two approaches are combined in CBT.

Both cognitive and behavioral therapy share the following:

  • The therapist and client work together with a mutual understanding that the therapist has theoretical and technical expertise, but the client is the expert on him- or herself.
  • The therapist seeks to help the client discover that he/she is powerful and capable of choosing positive thoughts and behaviors.
  • Treatment is often short-term. Clients actively participate in treatment in and out of session. Homework assignments often are included in therapy. The skills that are taught in these therapies require practice.
  • Treatment is goal-oriented to resolve present-day problems. Therapy involves working step-by-step to achieve goals.
  • The therapist and client develop goals for therapy together, and track progress toward goals throughout the course of treatment.


Because CBT focuses on specific problems and narrows the focus of the therapy to dealing with those problems, it takes relatively little time, which can be ideal in a rehabilitation scenario. However, its narrow focus can also be a drawback in situations where the roots of the problems are multiple and complex. Be sure that you keep this in mind if you choose to pursue CBT.

When seeking a rehabilitation program that advertises the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, you should make sure that the treatment center has an active therapist qualified for CBT work. Ideally, seek out therapists with a masters or doctoral degree in psychology, counseling, social work, psychiatry, or related field from a regionally accredited university. Without at least one therapist participating with you or your loved one, it won’t be possible to experience true CBT.