Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular short-term approach to treatment that focuses on the ways that thoughts can be either helpful or unhelpful. Beliefs about ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in trigger positive or negative behaviors. Through self-observation and analysis of how our thoughts operate upon us, we can make powerful changes in our patterns.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is very helpful for treating addiction. That’s because addiction has a lot to do with distorted beliefs and negative behaviors. Recovery requires developing the ability to “pattern interrupt”. By choosing different thoughts, we behave differently and therefore get different results out of our lives.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has many advantages, including that it teaches skills one can carry forward and use for life. The essential discovery that we have the power to choose which thoughts we want to act upon is an important turning point for many women.

How Does CBT for Substance Abuse Work?

In substance abuse treatment contexts, cognitive behavioral therapy will start with targeting the most self-destructive patterns of thoughts and behavior. It begins with looking at thoughts and behaviors related to the use of a substance itself.

It is necessary for the light of self-awareness inside to recognize the extreme distortions that substances have introduced or magnified in one’s thought process. Typically in the case of addiction, original thoughts have been almost completely replaced with thoughts that serve the addiction itself.

Upon recognizing the presence of addiction-serving thoughts and behaviors inside our minds and choices, CBT guides us to focus on replacing these addiction-based thought-behavior patterns with better thoughts, the kind that leads to recovery outcomes.

After addressing the most basic and necessary thought changes related to patterns of using, you will be guided to look into underlying belief systems, perceptions, and ways of understanding yourself that create negativity, to begin with.

Every woman with addiction has ended up using drugs or alcohol because of hidden thoughts of not being fully safe, pervasive low self-esteem, and other ways of looking at the world that doesn’t feel good. Thinking distorted thoughts like these create a background environment in which a woman is set up to seek some kind of relief.

Such insidious and painful thoughts and related negative behavioral patterns (for example, choosing to isolate because one feels unworthy of love or thinks one does not fit in) also need to be changed to recover. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful methodology for targeting these perceptions and helping us see that we don’t have to look at things that way.

Components of CBT for Substance Abuse

CBT focuses on two key ways of treating substance abuse, Functional Analysis, and Skills Training.

Functional Analysis in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Functional Analysis looks at the origins of choices we make and looks at whether the outcomes we got as a result of that choice are something we want or don’t want. When we see unwanted outcomes and unintended consequences in our lives, we will naturally be motivated to try different behaviors to see if we can get better results.

In Functional Analysis, the therapist and clients work together to practically assess what’s working and what isn’t, and see if there might be better paths to a desired outcome.

A woman seeking recovery from addiction has to go through a recognition process of discovering how external results are being set in motion by her unconscious thoughts, feelings, and choices.

For example, a woman who on a whim takes a drink at a family gathering after a hard-earned period of sobriety, thereby beginning a relapse, may have just wanted to feel relaxed and like she belonged, to numb the feelings of low self-esteem, loneliness, or shame she was feeling. The outcome, a relapse, eventually reinforces her feelings of unworthiness and creates the opposite effect of what she needed.

In particular in with CBT for substance abuse, emphasis is placed on the fact that substances do not create positive outcomes, even though it seems in the moment like maybe they will. The chain of association whereby a substance has seemed like a friend has to be broken, such that one sees that substances have, on the whole, quite destructive impacts.

Functional Analysis is very useful in relapse prevention planning, in which one needs to critically examine one’s addiction-related thoughts, feelings, circumstances, and behavioral patterns to make a rigorous plan for being different.

Skills Training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Cognitive behavioral therapy is essentially a very practical, results-oriented methodology, which defines its success or failure based on whether or not behavioral goals are reached. If a change in thought and behavior works, we keep it, and if it doesn’t work, we keep searching for a better one until things work better.

Healthy thinking, the kind that creates positive outcomes in the reality we live in, is a skill that can be learned.  Once we have better thinking skills, we get the benefit of behavioral changes and better life outcomes.

It is very empowering for women to learn that helpful thoughts and positive behaviors are skills that pretty much anyone can learn.

While CBT is not a silver bullet, it is a very valuable discovery to see how much influence we have over our sphere and subjective experiences, just through the practice of remembering we have a choice in which thoughts we choose to endorse.

Some of the most important CBT skills trained include:

  • The ability to notice one’s own more subtle or semiconscious thoughts playing in the background
  • The ability to assess the quality of those thoughts (does this thought help me or not)
  • The ability to source the origin of inherited or collective-culture-based thoughts (this is what most people think, but what do I think?)
  • The ability to spot cognitive distortions or thoughts that create unhappiness. For instance, catastrophizing (expecting the worst), judgment and shoulds, taking things personally, or the fallacy of control
  • The ability to gently acknowledge (not suppress) negative thinking for what it is

What Are Some Benefits of CBT for Substance Abuse?

The key benefits of CBT for substance abuse include:

  • a better understanding of the role addiction has played in our lives, particularly how addiction has tricked us into negative, self-defeating patterns of behavior
  • learning to spot addiction-serving thought-behavior-result chain reactions and to pattern-interrupt with positive actions
  • relapse prevention
  • learning to think thoughts that create feelings of safety, self-esteem, and meaning in one’s psyche, no matter what else happens in the external world
  • better relationships and communication, as a result of better self-awareness combined with more loving, compassionate, and accepting thoughts about oneself

What Are the Stages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is structured and systematic, which is helpful when undergoing a kind of voluntary reprogramming of one’s thoughts and resultant behaviors.

The First Stage Is Called the Assessment Stage

As the name implies, the Assessment Stage is the stage when the therapist and client get to know each other, and a neutral evaluation of the existing state of one’s thoughts and behaviors begins. The therapist will work together with you to assess which areas of life need improvement and form a plan with a recommendation for how many sessions should be required to see positive changes.

The Second Stage Is Called the Cognitive Stage

During the Cognitive Stage, we begin to look at the thoughts that are driving negative, counterproductive action. In this stage, we discover the subtle interactions between perception and feeling that have led us to make choices that from the outside appear to be somewhat insane or problematic, but make sense in their own, distorted way, from within the logic and wounds of our psyches.

Specific thoughts and the chain of negative reactions and events are sequenced and isolated for greater clarity and identification of what exactly needs to be changed. A thorough list of triggers, painful emotions, uncomfortable states of mind, and behaviors is made.

The Third Stage Is Called the Behavior Stage

In the Behavior Stage, you start identifying and practicing better actions, simple but much more productive ways to respond when triggered. Making a behavior plan for what to do instead of using goes along with this stage.

You will be introduced to new self-soothing and self-care skills, on-the-spot hacks, and tricks, that you can use in your life. These will be thought tools (how to choose to look at things differently) as well as body-based coping tools that help you release agitation, stress, or emotional pain naturally without substances. It can take a few tries in this stage to master new behaviors and choices, like any new skill.

The Fourth Stage Is Called the Learning Stage

Reaching the Learning Stage, you ensure that your thought and behavior changes are becoming permanent changes, through repetition, consolidation of your learnings, and repeated application in live settings. You and your therapist look to your future and make a practical plan addressing all possible contingencies, identifying how each possible scenario will be addressed with positive thoughts and behaviors.

What Sets Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Apart?

CBT is one of many wonderfully helpful approaches for women changing their lives. CBT tends to be favored in treatment settings in part because results have been scientifically tracked in clinical settings, so it is generally considered a safe bet with relatively predictable results. CBT tends to help primarily in the cognitive end of things, where it shines as a leading modality for healing our thoughts. In addition, CBT is known for its use of concrete, achievable and trackable goals based on visible, measurable targets.

The fact that CBT is, by design, shorter term is appealing to many people, as well, for obvious reasons. For those who may like to have greater insight into what they’re getting themselves into when they enter treatment, CBT’s structured, rational approach can also be soothing, as everything is explained clearly and understandably.

For some more mentally identified people, working with the mind as a starting point is the best way to experience some of the more mysterious or even mystical aspects of love, emotions, and recovery. Everyone is different, and different tools work especially well for different people.

Luckily you do not have to choose between CBT and another method – at Villa Kali Ma we advocate for a person-centered approach in which you follow your own best path as it unfolds, getting what you need from as many different healing methodologies and mindsets as you need.

How Is CBT for Substance Abuse Specifically Helpful for Women?

How Is CBT for Substance Abuse Specifically Helpful for Women?.Women are disproportionately affected by serious depression, clinical anxiety, and dangerously low self-esteem, and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder as men. They are also almost twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder in the face of potentially traumatic incidents.

Women in general struggle to a greater degree to feel safe, and are at higher risk for certain substances that artificially create feelings of calm, such as benzodiazepines.

The higher rate of diagnosis may reflect the fact that women are more likely to seek help than men, but either way, the prevalence in women of problems feeling all right in this world is beyond doubt.

In the case of substance abuse, CBT is a valuable help for women to gain a hold of what’s going on in their thoughts about themselves, as well as how they may be carrying lingering emotions and physiological impacts of feeling not fully safe.

Given that our culture is prominently anti-female, women need to see that they are able and allowed to “agree to disagree” with inherited thoughts about ourselves, our bodies, our emotions, our intelligence, and our value to society.

How to Get the Most Out of CBT for Substance Abuse?

CBT works especially well when a participant takes an active role and does the heavy lifting of changing inner thought patterns from the inside. The willingness and personal effort to authorize an inner change to one’s mindset is infinitely more powerful than going along with recommended changes half-heartedly. So, it’s best to take an active, empowered role in your mental recovery if you can.

A good way to do this is to remember that therapy is a partnership and that you are as important as the therapist (actually much more important than the therapist), in designing changes for your life, choosing which outcomes you want, and deciding to commit to transforming yourself. You will get the payoff of your investment in yourself, so you should be as in charge as you can be. (That said – it’s ok to relax and receive the help you need, also. We seek a balance).

Another tip for women is to make sure that you tell the truth, share doubts and hesitancies with your therapist, and correct the therapist if you get the feeling they understand you wrongly. In general, don’t worry about being nice or what other people are thinking and feeling about your truth. This is often very difficult for us women, but it makes the therapy go much faster. Saying the truth, good bad, or ugly, is a powerful healing factor and expedites recovery.

It’s also a good idea to remember to follow the plan once set, committing to a period after which there will be a dedicated moment for re-evaluation and possible changes to the plan (versus adapting on the fly).

It’s important to commit to a certain change recipe so that you can evaluate the result and know exactly how you got the result. Too often we aren’t sure how we got to where we are because we didn’t follow a clear approach.

In recovery, it is better to commit to a month-long plan no matter what, then review the results, rather than adjust day by day according to our own shifting impulses, whims, and perceptions. That’s because especially when we are undergoing a change process, we are not a stable factor – it is the structure itself that stabilizes us.

Learning to design life-change experiments for ourselves, creating appropriate-sized plans, and then following them all the way through to see if we like the outcome or not, is a good life skill.

In a CBT context, it’s critical to follow your treatment plan to the end, and not to give up on yourself partway through. Self-sabotage through making an ad hoc change is likely an old, low-self-esteem-related behavior of self-destruction. Give yourself a chance to succeed.

Villa Kali Ma Offers a Women’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program

Villa Kali Ma Offers a Women's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program.We at Villa Kali Ma are fans of cognitive behavioral therapy because it effectively coaches an empowering set of tools and skills that, once learned, can be used for the rest of one’s life.

The core practice of assessing one’s thoughts, changing thoughts to get different results, assessing results, then fine-tuning thoughts for even better results, is a good solid path for a better-feeling life.

As we evolve, we change, but the core practice will continue to be useful. Influence over one’s thought-to-behavior-to-results chains is the difference between a life lived helplessly and a life lived purposefully. For that reason, we offer a healthy component of cognitive behavioral therapy as an integral part of our treatment program.

At the same time, since we are also proponents of somatic, creative, spiritual, lifestyle, and sundry other life-affirming approaches to healing from addiction, our CBT program is interwoven with many body-based, creative, and alternative approaches too.

Villa Kali Ma Outpatient Treatment for Women

3790 Via De La Valle # 313
Del Mar, CA 92014

(760) 903-5758


Call Villa Kali Ma at (760) 350-3131 or contact us to learn about our Intensive Outpatient Program for women.


It was the best 30 days of my life.


Villa Kali Ma provides a holistic, supportive, therapeutic retreat for women to recover from trauma & substance disorders. The intensive and comprehensive approach provides a compassionate path of learning, awareness, and self-love for healing. I am grateful for the sacred space provided for my reflection, my mind-body-spirit work, and my opportunity to connect with other women in this process.


Villa Kali Ma changed my life in every single aspect. Not only did the experience help me get sober and stay sober for over a year now, but I was finally able to work on my past trauma in a safe and stable environment. Not a day goes by that I’m not using a healthy tool they taught me. I am forever grateful to the staff and strong women I spent my time with there. Truly the most profound life changing month of my life.





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Villa Kali Ma is an in-network provider with Anthem BCBS, Multiplan, First Health, Healthnet, and currently accepts most
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