Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should not be mistaken for cognitive behavioral education (CBE) and vice versa. Unfortunately, the name of the former is confusingly similar in name to that of the latter and their acronyms, CBE and CBT, sound almost identical

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a highly evidence-based therapeutic approach widely used for substance use disorders, including alcoholism and drug dependency or addiction. This technique has also long been used for other problems such as depression, psychotic disorders, anxiety, criminal behaviors, bulimia, bipolar disorder, and many others.

CBT is based on the fact that maladaptive cognitions (beliefs and ideas) are important in creating and maintaining emotional distress and problem behaviors. Changing the maladaptive cognitions leads to more positive emotions and desirable behaviors.

To achieve these outcomes, clients are active participants in a collaborative problem-solving process to examine and challenge the validity of problem-creating cognitions and to change problem behaviors. Clients are taught the necessary information, skills, and techniques to help them achieve the objectives they set for themselves.

The time frame selected is generally short term, typically lasting four to six weeks, and is offered on an out-client basis. However, because of its effectiveness, it is also typically offered as part of residential rehab programs as well.

Extensive research has demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT and it is well-known. Not surprisingly, many clients will only attend an alcohol or drug rehabilitation facility that offers it.

Cognitive behavioral education shares some features with cognitive behavioral therapy. Both recognize that alcohol and drug problems result from personal decisions, both recognize that individuals can change their cognitions and behaviors, and both treat clients with dignity. However, they are different in many important ways:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Cognitive Behavioral Education
Developed by renowned psychologists Developed by laypersons without psychological training
Based on established psychological principles Based on philosophy
Hundreds of published research reports No published research report to date
Scientifically proven effective Not scientifically proven effective
Widely recognized by psychological and other professional associations Not recognized by any psychological or other professional association
Professional Non-professional
Collaborative Not collaborative
Described in psychology dictionaries, encyclopedias,
handbooks, and other reference works
Not described in any psychology dictionary, encyclopedia, handbook, or other reference work
Owned by no one, freely shared with other professionals for good of clients and society
Owned by one corporation, Baldwin Research Institute; not shared with professionals
Claims of effectiveness made by qualified researchers without any conflicts of interest Claims of effectiveness made by corporation offering the program for money

After many years, no scientific, professional, or governmental body recognizes cognitive behavioral education as an effective approach to helping those with alcohol or drug problems. This does not mean that CBE is not effective, only that there is no scientific evidence that it is.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any educational approach is effective. A landmark study by Dr. William R. Miller and colleagues at the University of New Mexico examined the effectiveness of 48 different treatments for alcoholism by combining the results of 381 controlled trials that compared the effectiveness of a treatment method with either no treatment or with other alcoholism treatments. Based on the evidence, the treatments were ranked from #1 (the most effective) to #48 (the least effective). The researchers found that the very poorest approach, ranked at the bottom at #48, consisted of educational techniques.1 This, of course, does not mean that an educational technique could not be effective.

It is important not to confuse CBT and CBE, which are different in almost every important way. Whichever you choose, make sure that it is the one you receive.

Disclaimer: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about alcohol, drinking, rehabs, programs, or any other matter and none should be inferred. Neither this website nor your host receives any compensation, directly or indirectly, from listing or describing any program. Such listing or description does not imply endorsement. [+]


  • 1. Miller, W. R., Wilbourne, P. L., & Hettema, J. E.  What works? A summary of alcohol treatment outcome research.  Chapter 2 in R. K. Hester & W. R. Miller (Eds.), Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches: Effective Alternatives (3rd ed., pp. 13-63).  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2003.

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