Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic strategy designed to change the cognitions that influence maladaptive behaviors. CBT is scientific, meaning that it relies on empirical support from research for its therapeutic strategies. CBT is also action-oriented, meaning that our clients have to engage in the clinical discussion and activities as part of the therapeutic process. This in in contract to many of the talk-therapy and confrontational approaches that many of our justice-involved clients are used to. CBT is also present-paced, meaning that therapeutic strategies are aimed at changing the current risk factors that impact our clients’ behavior. Finally, there is a focus on learning with a CBT approach. Our clients spend a significant amount of time learning and practicing new methods of handling situations for better behavioral outcomes, and improved quality of life.
Just as the actions we repeatedly perform become our habits, so do our repeated thoughts become habitual. In CBT, we work to unlearn old behavioral patterns that have caused trouble in our lives and work to learn new and more effective ways of behavior that will lead us to increased success and goal achievement. These changes in behavior rely on and are supported by changings in our thoughts. If we want to change a person’s actions, we must first explore the thinking and feelings that are driving those actions. Cognitive restructuring uses a guided approach that includes linking thoughts and behaviors, teaching clients to identify risky thoughts, and implementing new thinking.
An important goal of the treatment process is to help our clients “unlearn” old, ineffective and/or risky behaviors and “learn” new behaviors that can help them make pro-social choices and reach their personal life goals. The skills within the CBT framework are designed to help the client gain control over problematic behaviors, cope with unwelcomed feelings, and manage thoughts that drive risky behaviors. However, CBT is an approach that seeks to teach skills and strategies that the clients can use long after treatment has ended.
Problem-solving is one of the most important skills for successfully navigating the world in general. It involves both cognitive and behavioral abilities and relies on one’s capacity to think about the problem objectively, often identifying a variety of complex factors. Problem-solving is not effective when a person is reacting emotionally to a situation. In addition, instant gratification will often act as a barrier to effective problem solving. When thoughts and feelings are slowed down, the ability to analyze and evaluation possible alternative choices involved and link them to a desired outcome is greatly enhanced. The behavioral portion comes into play when the chosen approach to handling a given problem is put into action. In CBT clients will learn and practice steps to effective problem-solving.
Alpha’s use of CBT is intended to be delivered in a motivational style. This is accomplished through the use of Motivational Interviewing (MI). A primary goal of MI is to elicit change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence. Ambivalence refers to the condition of identifying with simultaneous and contradictory attitudes and/or feelings. This can lead to inaction as the individual sees the pros and cons of both sides of the situation and is, therefore, unable to make a decisions and maintain adherence to a change process.