Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work for Process Addictions?

Posted Sat, Apr 27, 2013

A process addiction is a behavioral addiction that is not related to substance abuse. These include addictions such as compulsive spending or shopping, sex addiction, eating disorders, and compulsive gambling, but not those that require detoxification, like drug abuse or alcoholism. These unique addictions may interfere with a person’s home, work, or school life, and they can be as detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

One way of treating these addictions is through cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is used to treat depression, anxiety, phobias, and mental disorders, but it can also be used to treat alcoholism, drug addiction, and process addictions. This type of therapy is well-researched and known throughout the medical community, and there are plenty of research findings available that discuss the many different methods.

Cognitive behavior therapy is based on the concept that behaviors and feelings are controlled by a person’s thoughts, not on stimuli from outside, like peers, events, or situations. With this kind of therapy, it is not the person’s living condition that is the problem, but the way in which the person feels and behaves in distorted situations. The focus of therapy is to reteach a patient how to live in social, home, work, or school environments without falling victim to the impulses that are currently taking over his or her life.

Cognitive behavior therapy works by teaching patients to recognize when a situation is one that could trigger their impulses, and then to avoid those situations when possible. They are also taught to cope with behaviors and problems as they arise, as this can help reduce the addictive personality qualities. With the right focus on coping mechanisms, a patient may eventually be able to enter trigger situations without facing previously challenging urges or impulses.

There are several types of cognitive behavior therapy that are used by the medical community, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy.

But, can these types of therapy work for a person with a process addiction? Research suggests that it can and will help, regardless of the addiction. There are two main parts of cognitive behavior therapy that help patients, and these include skills training and functional analysis.

Functional Analysis:

  • A therapist works with a patient to identify thoughts and feelings, as well as circumstances that happened before or after an addiction episode.
  • Patients and therapists work together to determine the risks that could lead to relapse.
  • The therapist and patient work to discuss insights on why a person gambles, feels addicted to sex, etc., and they make a plan to avoid these situations and work through the emotions they cause.
  • Skills Training
  • Therapists work with patients to help the individual unlearn the old habits.
  • Therapists educate the patient in how to change his or her thoughts; this includes learning new ways to cope with urges.

Cognitive behavior therapy with a trained professional can take between twelve and sixteen weeks to complete. These sessions focus on the short term and the immediate needs and problems of the patient. According to NIDA, this method of treatment was one of the most commonly used in over twenty-four randomly completed trials.

Cognitive behavior therapy has been proven to be effective compared to no treatment, which means it’s not simply a coincidence that the patients improve after therapy. When compared to other approaches, cognitive behavior therapy is shown to be at least as effective as other addiction treatments.

Although cognitive behavior therapy works on its own, many believe that it works best when combined with other pharmaceutical treatments and the help of support groups. There are medications, even for those with addictions to gambling or sex, that can help control urges and addictive tendencies. By treating underlying mental health issues, some patients have been able to break away from extreme spending habits and compulsions.

As with all types of therapy, this approach will work for some patients while doing little for others. This is particularly true if a patient is not willing to participate in a program.

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