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West Coast Recovery Centers offers a variety of therapeutic modalities for recovering from substance use disorders (SUDs). One of the most prominent techniques used is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). 

CBT is a client-based approach to treating SUDs. This means that it focuses on the specific thinking patterns of the client rather than generalized coping strategies. 

The main function of CBT is to recognize unhealthy thinking patterns that can lead to SUDs and dismantle them. Implementing healthier ways of thinking takes practice but has been found to help curb cravings and prevent relapse.

How Does CBT Work?

CBT is a relatively short-term therapy treatment, typically taking 12 to 16 weeks to complete. Because of this, CBT is highly goal-oriented, and the client and therapist work together to meet these goals. CBT is traditionally broken into two basic components: functional analysis and skills training. 

#1 Functional Analysis

Functional analysis refers to the client and therapist working together to uncover thinking patterns that may contribute to SUDs. This includes identifying repressed thoughts, discovering childhood events that led to negative thinking, understanding feelings surrounding certain events, and more. 

Ultimately, this step is dedicated to identifying the underlying reasons clients may engage in risky behaviors so that these behaviors, and therefore relapse, can be avoided.

There are many different tools that therapists may use in this component of CBT. The goal of the tools used in functional analysis is to get the client to recognize their unhealthy behaviors and what’s causing them. The most common tools used in functional analysis include:

Guided Discovery

Guided discovery refers to the therapist helping the client change their perception. For example, clients may enter CBT exhibiting thinking patterns they’re unaware of because they’re deeply ingrained in their minds. A therapist trained to recognize these patterns can ask guided questions to illuminate them to the client. 

By prompting the client to identify and challenge their thoughts, the therapist is altering the perception of their mind. Through this new perception, clients can better understand these negative patterns that may be affecting the way they interact with negative habits such as substance abuse.


Role-playing refers to acting out scenes that may be difficult for the client. By doing this, the client is pushed out of their comfort zone and forced to confront fears and anxieties. 

For example, if a therapist finds that a lot of a client’s issues stem from a conflict they have with a parent, the therapist can role play as the parent so the client can express their true emotions. This often leads to revelations about the source of their thinking patterns. 

While this may sound scary, being forced to identify and confront these issues is a significant step toward learning to deal with them in a healthier way. 

Cognitive Re-Framing

Cognitive re-framing refers to dismantling cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are negative tricks the mind plays on an individual, leading to more negative emotions. Often, these things compound and can lead to spiraling depression or anxiety. 

An example of cognitive distortion is thinking that you’ll never be able to recover successfully because you’ve relapsed once. Cognitive re-framing aims to identify these distortions and challenge them. The therapist may ask leading questions, similar to guided discovery, to allow the client to see these distortions. Once they’ve been identified, the work comes to challenge them and cultivate a better mindset.

#2 Skills Training

Skills training refers to replacing negative thinking patterns identified in functional analysis with healthier skills. The client and therapist work together to develop effective coping strategies for these underlying issues that don’t include resorting to substance abuse or other negative behaviors. 

For example, if a client previously turned to substances when faced with a stressful situation, such as seeing their parents for the holidays, the therapist may encourage an alternative skill, such as therapeutic journaling. This would allow clients to get to the root of their anxiety and communicate it – even if it’s just to themselves. 

Skills training also encourages mindfulness. For clients to replace negative patterns with positive skills, they’ll first need to be able to identify those negative patterns on their own. This self-awareness is crucial; a therapist won’t always be there to help clients see these negative thinking patterns. Developing self-awareness is imperative to the long-term goals of recovery and relapse prevention.

Using CBT in Substance Abuse Treatment

CBT is only one of many effective modalities available in substance abuse treatment. However, it has been one of the most prominent ways to treat SUDs for decades. By creating attainable goals and working together, a client and therapist can identify the sources of undesirable behaviors and work to replace them with healthier habits. Ultimately, this will lead to a healthier lifestyle for the client and reduces the risk of relapse.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an extremely useful tool if utilized correctly and can be used to treat a variety of disorders. Over the past six decades, CBT has been used by professionals with great success. However, it is only one of the many modalities available to you at West Coast Recovery Centers. Our professionals understand that each person is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to substance abuse treatment. We are thrilled to work with you on a personalized journey to recovery that best suits you and your needs as an individual. CBT may be part of this treatment plan, or it may not, depending on your specific needs. To learn more about CBT or the other types of treatments, West Coast Recovery Centers offers, call us today at (760) 492-6509. We have professionals eager to help you take the first step on the path toward healing and self-discovery. 

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
DHCS Licensing and Certification Division