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Youth in the cognitive behavioral therapy program

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Co-Occurring Disorders

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the understanding that the way we think influences how we feel and the choices that we make. Cognitions (thoughts and beliefs) are the things we say to ourselves about the world around us. These thoughts can sometimes be unhelpful, negative, or distorted from reality.

For example, Sam is walking down the hallway at school and tries to say hello to one of his classmates. The classmate barely looks up at Sam, mumbles something and keeps walking. Sam thinks to himself, “I must have done something to make him annoyed with me.” Sam spends a lot of time thinking about what he could have done wrong, feels guilty and anxious, and avoids talking to his classmate for the rest of the week. In CBT, the therapist would help Sam look at different ways he could think about this situation. Is it possible that Sam did something to upset his classmate? Sure. But that’s just one of so many possibilities. Sam’s classmate could be stressed out about an exam, have had a recent fight with his parents, or just not heard Sam say hello.

We all have experiences like Sam’s where we think something negative about ourselves, but people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders get overwhelmed by negative or distorted thoughts. These thoughts can make it hard to cope with anxiety, depression, and to reduce substance use. For example, Lily has depression and is also trying to quit using marijuana. She hasn’t smoked in 2 weeks, but decides to get high at her friend’s birthday party. Afterwards Lily thinks to herself, “This is pointless, I’m never going to change. I couldn’t even make it longer than 2 weeks. Forget it.” These thoughts might lead Lily to start using marijuana more regularly again.

How does ICTP apply Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help youth with co-occurring disorders?

In ICTP, therapists help teens with co-occurring disorders get a better understanding of their thoughts and how they impact their feelings and choices. Then we develop skills and strategies for dealing with or changing these thoughts so that they are not so powerful. Of course there are times when we will still have painful emotions, even after changing our thoughts. For these situations, ICTP therapists help teens develop other skills like distress tolerance, problem solving, and communication.

CBT is effective in treating many mental health disorders. These include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, as well as many substance use disorders. If you think someone you know could benefit from CBT, contact our office to see if our program is the right fit.

For more information about CBT and the ICTP program, check out the ICTP FAQ Post.

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