Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy originally designed to treat depression. Its goal is to identify and eventually change maladaptive thinking patterns, behaviors and emotions that trigger or worsen a number of psychological problems such as depression, phobias, substance abuse and anxiety. As such, it can easily be applied to smoking cessation.
By itself, CBT has not been proven to be hugely effective in helping people to quit smoking. However, when combined with nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medication, it can greatly improve the odds of success.
The Three Phases of a CBT Program
During a CBT program, the therapist will focus on increasing the patient’s confidence in his ability to succeed, assuring the patient in his resolution to quit and teaching the patient new ways of coping with cravings and stress. A typical intensive cognitive behavioral therapy program consists of three phases:
Despite most smokers’ natural urge to quit smoking immediately after making the decision to do so, a 2-4 week preparation period has been proven to significantly enhance the odds of long-term success. During this period, a therapist will help the patient to accomplish two distinct goals:
- Setting a quit date. Choosing a firm and specific date on which to quit smoking is a crucial part of the quitting process. A date that has some personal meaning to the patient, such as his birthday or Mother’s Day, can be a source of additional motivation for some smokers. Most importantly, the date should be within a month of the start of therapy.
- Developing awareness of smoking behavior. For most smokers, smoking can be a largely automated habit to the point where it can mostly be done subconsciously. An awareness of your unique smoking patterns, such as the times you smoke, the environment you are in when you smoke and the emotions you are experiencing, are necessary to be able to find your triggers and change your smoking habits.
- Managing triggers. This is perhaps the most important aspect of CBT therapy for nicotine addiction. A therapist will help you identify what triggers the urges to smoke, how to avoid those things and how to develop positive responses to potentially dangerous thoughts. The therapist will attempt to break the link between those triggers and your smoking habits by changing your daily routines and replacing smoking with other activities.
- Prescription or over-the-counter medication can be used to help reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal in addition to CBT, which is used to combat the psychological aspects of your addiction. This combination has been found to be highly effective.
3. Relapse Prevention
The success rates of any smoking cessation method drastically decrease over time. This is why it’s important to learn relapse prevention techniques during therapy. A crucial aspect of that is learning to distinguish between slips and actual relapse of addiction. Certain psychological techniques can be used to prevent a full-blown relapse after smoking just one or several cigarettes.
CBT-related Techniques for Quitting Smoking
- Developing individual strategies to avoid smoking in situations that used to trigger cravings.
- Changing your thinking patterns related to smoking. For instance, if a patient has a habit of thinking “I need a cigarette” in a stressful situation, a therapist can help replace that thought with “I need some fresh air”.
- Identifying triggers and learning how to avoid them.
- Education about nicotine dependence, withdrawal symptoms and quitting strategies.
- Planning replacement activities to occupy your hands and mouth, like snacking or chewing gum.
- Relaxation training using breathing exercises.
- Aversion therapy. Cigarette aversion can be achieved by focusing on the negative aspects of cigarette smoking.
The Pros and Cons of CBT
CBT is known to be effective in improving the odds of success. The experience, feedback and motivation provided by a skilled therapist can truly help you to quit smoking. Certain techniques provided by CBT can also be helpful in combating weight gain during the quitting process.
The main drawback associated with using CBT to quit smoking is the potential difficulty of finding a skilled therapist trained in CBT, especially if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area. Another drawback of the method is the high cost of the therapy when compared with the cost of nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medication alone.
If you need additional information, refer to our Quit Smoking for Good guide.
For more motivation to quit, read about the positive events that happen after quitting in our article, Quitting Smoking: Effects On The Human Body.
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