Addiction is an illness that affects one’s physical and psychological well being. So, you might think that someone in recovery might need a doctor to address their health concerns and a psychologist to address their psychological concerns. This is indeed true. However, one significant symptom of addiction is compulsory behavior. In other words, a person finds themselves behaving in ways they don’t want to be behaving. However, because they are dependent upon a behavior or substance, they continue to act compulsively. It is this part of addiction that behavioral therapy can address.
What psychologists recognize is that there is a lot that contributes to our behavior. We might believe that we choose the way we behave, and in some ways, this is true. However, there are also many other factors such as what we are motivated by, consequences, hopes and aspirations, and rewards that can influence our behavior. Furthermore, our feelings and thoughts have a big impact on behavior. For instance, if you believe that you are not good at what you do, then you might call out sick more often. You might dismiss the details in your work because you feel it’s not any good anyway. You might ignore the compliments of your co-workers and avoid the upcoming evaluation from your supervisor. However, if you believe that you are great at what you do, then you might show up to work early, help your coworkers when they need it, leave work feeling fulfilled and energized, and knock on your supervisor’s door for your work evaluation.
Because of this, behavioral therapy is essentially the exploration of a person’s thoughts and feelings and how they contribute to their behavior. There are a few different types of behavioral therapies that tend to focus on different issues.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This form of therapy changes thinking and belief patterns to help prevent someone from acting out based on a negative thought or belief. CBT works well with anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, and addiction.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – This form of therapy is particularly successful with Borderline Personality Disorder, eating disorders, conduct disorders, and addictions. It uses mindfulness techniques along with learning healthy coping tools to adjust to life in healthy ways.
The Importance of Behavioral Therapy in Treating Addiction
Behavioral therapies are so important in treating addictions because many behaviors are learned. Part of treatment then is to teach a person to unlearn those behaviors and replace them with healthy and more life affirming ones. For instance, if a person is used to drinking when they feel angry, slowly a person will learn that drinking is a way to cope with anger. If the alcohol helps them self soothe and get calm, then that person might continue to drink until they are caught in the cycle of addiction. However, during treatment and sober living, a person learns how to use other, more healthy coping tools (such as deep breathing and how to calmly express emotions) so that they don’t have to rely upon the alcohol anymore. In this case, a person learned how to change their behavior – for the better.
If you’re in addiction treatment and you’re not participating in behavioral therapy, speak to a mental health professional for more information.