Unpacking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Addiction & Legal Issues

Unpacking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Addiction & Legal Issues

by Gerald Opthof, Psy.D, LPC, LCADC

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (known as CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on how individuals think about themselves, the world and other people, and how the individual’s actions will affect their thoughts and feelings.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was founded by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960’s.  Dr. Beck had been trained in psychoanalysis and was researching whether psychoanalysis was beneficial in the treatment of depression.  Through his research he discovered that analysis was not a suitable form of therapy in the treatment of depression.  Dr. Beck began to research what would be beneficial in treating individuals with depression.  Through the research, he began to see that patients thoughts about themselves had a direct relationship to their emotional state.  Since Dr. Beck’s initial theory, CBT has been studied more than 500 times, showing its efficiency in treating various psychological problems.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is beneficial to almost all individuals that are seeking psychotherapy.  CBT is an approved treatment modality by most insurance companies, because when practiced correctly, it can be a short-term evidence approved modality.  Individuals can learn quickly ways to identify their rational and irrational beliefs and can learn to see how their beliefs are affecting their thoughts and behaviors.   For instance, in the event that somebody you know passes you in the street without recognizing you, you can translate it a few ways; You may think they would prefer not to know you in light of the fact that nobody likes you (which may lead you to feel discouraged), your thought may be that you trust they don’t stop to converse with you, on the grounds that you won’t realize what to say and they’ll think you’re exhausting and dumb (tension), you may think they’re in effect deliberately nasty (prompting outrage). A healthier reaction may be that they simply didn’t see you.

Unlike other talk therapies, CBT focuses on the “here and now”.   Not that your past experiences aren’t important to you; however CBT focuses on what is affecting you today.  

I have found CBT to be extremely helpful with two populations that I counsel.  I specialize in dealing with patients who have some form of addiction (i.e., substances, gambling, sex, food, etc) as well as working with males who are going through or have been through difficult martial/divorce/child custody cases.

CBT & Addiction

In addressing addiction, we often talk about people needing to stop their addiction and work on developing ways to avoid relapsing.  This is often easier said than done.  If someone could stop and simply step away from the destructive behaviors they are intwined in, wouldn’t they?  When discussing relapse prevention we talk about avoiding people, places and things.  We talk about how you have to change your lifestyle and anything associated with your addiction.  In the case of alcohol, it is everywhere, no matter where you live or work, there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and liquor stores.  Why is it, that for days, these buildings don’t concern the alcoholic, but then “suddenly” they become weak and go in and relapse.  CBT looks not at the people, places and things, but rather the individual and what they are dealing with or not dealing with in the here and now.  For the addict, yes, it is important to avoid places that could lead to a relapse; however, isn’t it more important to look at what they were feeling and thinking at the moment of their relapse.  CBT used early on in the treatment process of recovery, can significantly aid in educating the addict to what is really behind the cravings and urges, which are the thoughts and feelings.  Almost every addict will talk about not wanting to feel or think a certain way.  CBT allows us to teach them that those thoughts and feelings are always within us; however, we don’t have to react the same way to those thoughts and emotions, and by doing so, may aid the patient in implementing the skills and tools needed to sustain long term recovery.  

— Read more about Cannabis Addiction : HERE

CBT & Legal Issues

Similarly, no matter what stage of the process you are in with regards to a divorce, the common emotions that an individual will experience are guilt, grief, fear, anger, doubt and regret; all very common and uncomfortable emotions for most individuals.  As individuals go through divorce it is not uncommon to hear phrases such as:  what the spouse is trying to do to the patient, how they are having parenting time taken away from them, how the spouse wants more money from them, how the patient is being unfairly treated in the court system, and the list goes on.   The techniques of CBT can help an individual change their negative beliefs and to focus on being more optimistic.

Clients can begin to experience a calmer and clearer view of their situation using CBT.  In matters of divorce and child custody issues, people are often placed, whether due to their circumstances or the motives of another, into position of vulnerability and extreme feelings of loss.  When a person is taught the skills and techniques of CBT, they then can redirect their energy to themselves and what it is they are afraid of handling (normally some emotion).  As clients begin to express how they are feeling and what thoughts are going through their head, then they can start to say to themselves, “I am ok, this is an unpleasant situation, but I am ok and will be ok when this is over.” They learn to talk about the appropriate emotions they are experiencing and then with the assistance of the therapist, look at the why they were feeling this way and how to reframe their thoughts and actions.   The goal is for the individual to address situations appropriately.   

There are many therapy modalities that are available to therapists that treat various mental health issues.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can aid in breaking the cycles of negative thinking, feelings and behavior.  When an individual can identify the cycle clearly, they can change them, and then alter the way they are feeling.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapies goal is to get the individual to where they can “do it myself” and work out their way of addressing problems. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you to break these awful cycles of negative thinking, sentiments and conduct. When you see the parts of the endless loop plainly, you can transform them – and in this way change the way you feel. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy intends to get you to a point where you can “do it without anyone else’s help”, and work out your own particular way of handling issues.


About Gerald Opthof, Psy.D, LPC, LCADC  

Dr. Opthof is a cognitive behavioral forensic psychotherapist who is licensed to practice in New Jersey.  He is a member of the American Counseling Association.  In his clinical experience, he has counseled individuals with addictive disorders such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual, and computer addictions. 

Over the course of his career, he has been asked to appear on Caucus: New Jersey with Steve Adubato in regards to their Families in Crisis Series.  He was appointed to serve as a member of the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and chaired their Prevention Sub-Committee.   

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This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Thank you for thispost.more people need to be opening up conversations about these important issues. We all could do with a little CBT in our lives it’s an amazing self-help tool for recognising and taming our destructive behaviours.

  2. Jo

    Very interesting read! I’d hear of CBT but didn’t know much about it. Your post educated me a little bit! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Tricia Wyatt

    Interesting read! thanks for sharing.

  4. Stacy

    Very informative post! CBT has helped me develop self-awareness around my thought and behaviors. To me self knowing combined with self compassion are the keys to long term personal growth and sobriety! I would recommend it to anyone looking to get out of their own way.

    1. YOu’re awesome Stacy!!! Thank you for your comment! And best of luck to you. Remember- one day at a time and you’re as sick as your secrets! Take good care!

  5. Meagan

    Interesting information that more people should know about! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Pauline Reynolds

    I love love love cbt!!! As a mental health professional, it works really well!! Great article.

  7. Very interesting… another reason someone may pass you in the street, I like to think they are in a rush and they are very focused on what they need to do that they didn’t even see me. 😉 That’s how I get when I’m in a rush and stressed out. 😛

    I divorced a man that was addicted to sex/pornography which has also led to marijuana and alcohol usage as well. I find it interesting that he blames me and child support for his problems yet he didn’t make any effort to voice his thoughts when we filed for divorce or make much effort to spend with our five children now. I continue to be nice and try to give him options but he’s so wrapped up in his little world. I was told he was a narcissists and a victim of gaslighting. Both of these would fall under CBT right? I wish you could help him…thank you for your post.

    1. Hi Ruth! Sounds like you and your children have been through a lot. I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties. Neither narcissism nor gaslighting fall under CBT- it’s a methodology used to treatment mental health conditions. If it’s something you’re interested in pursuing for yourself or your family, please feel free to contact me directly. I’d be happy to provide you with resources. Take good care!

  8. Georgette

    A very educating post. Thank you!

  9. Holly Bird

    This is a wonderful post..CBT is almost a tabooed subject, when it needs to be at the forefront of emotional healing! Our behaviors are years of learned reactions, and even physical pain and illness are affected! Thank you for the information!

  10. Rachel Newlon

    I had a girlfriend use this to help with insomnia issues. She swears by it.

  11. Shelly

    This was SO interesting! I am bookmarking this so I can re-read it. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Susan Franklin

    Very interesting read and information. I had not heard of CBT, but it sounds like it would be a very effective way to deal with issues. I especially liked the comparison for addiction. My late husband suffered from alcohol addiction, and you are so right about it being everywhere. Learning how to deal with this issue using CBT could have been very helpful for him. Thanks for sharing and providing more insight into CBT.

    1. Hi Susan- Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your husband. It can be very difficult to help our loved ones with their addictions. It doesn’t just effect the addicted person- it effects the whole family. I would like to encourage you to check out Al-Anon. It’s meant the world to me. Maybe I’ll see you at a meeting! Take care.

  13. Janine

    Fascinating. Wonderful to see what help is out there.

  14. T

    We need more dialogue on not only this but any mental health/addiction concerns. It usually isn’t just one thing but a combination of many issues. Hope this article finds its way to others who will benefit!

  15. Flor

    Very interesting article, I’ve never heard about it and I know so many people that could use this information. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Katie Mitchell

    Very interesting and informative post! I had heard of CBT but didn’t know too much about it.

  17. Judean

    I enjoyed reading this article very much – it is important for this information to be shared with as many as possible.

  18. Dominique

    Interesting post! I never knew this much about CBT

  19. T.M. Brown

    This is a very intriguing post. I do have a family member who uses it to successfully calm her anxieties and it’s use has been discussed when it comes to a rheumatologic condition another family member has. I admit I’m still learning about it.

  20. Nicki

    Interesting article. I learn so much from these. Thank you!

  21. Bob

    That is pretty cool that CBT can help reassess destructive thinking patterns. My son has been spiraling with drugs and depression these past 6 months. We’ll need to make sure that we get him a therapist to help isolate his core trauma.

    1. Hey Bob! Thanks for taking the time to comment about this post! If you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out to Dr. Opthof! We hope you and your son take good care!

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