Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying, understanding and changing the thoughts and behaviors that cause emotional distress. In CBT, you’ll work with your therapist to identify unhelpful patterns in your thinking and irrational beliefs or assumptions. From there, you’ll be able to work together with your therapist to create more effective ways of thinking about problems in order to cope better with life challenges. CBT is not a distinct treatment technique. Instead, it is a general term which refers to a group of therapies. These therapies have certain similarities in therapeutic methodology. CBT was developed by Aaron Beck in the 1960s. It can be helpful for people who experience depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing how you think and act to improve your mood and reduce symptoms of mental health conditions

CBT is a psychological theory that focuses on how people think, feel and behave. It assumes that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by their experiences and environment. The theory states that some changes in thinking patterns can help you to reduce negative emotions and increase positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy is grounded in the belief that how a person perceives events determines how they will act. It is not the events themselves that determine the person’s actions or feelings. For example, a person with anxiety may believe that “everything will turn out badly today.” These negative thoughts may influence their focus. They may then only perceive negative things that happen. Meanwhile, they may block out or avoid thoughts or actions that could disprove the negative belief system. Afterward, when nothing appears to go right in the day, the person may feel even more anxious than before. The negative belief system may get stronger. The person is at risk of being trapped in a vicious, continuous cycle of anxiety.

CBT also encourages you to take action in the real world by changing your behavior rather than just focusing on your thoughts or feelings alone. CBT therapists believe this approach helps people achieve long-term success because it teaches them how to change both their actions and attitudes towards themselves, other people and life events such as stressors (e.g., work deadlines). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It aims to change patterns in thinking and behavior that are behind people’s problems, such as depression or anxiety. CBT assumes that our thoughts inform our emotions and behaviors; therefore if we change our thinking patterns, we can improve our moods and actions. CBT has been proven effective for many problems by research studies including anxiety and depression.

In sessions, you will follow a structured format that flows with the questions: What is the problem? What will be done in this session? What do you want to get out of the session? How will we know if it worked? How do you feel about what we’ve done today? In addition to these questions, it’s important to go over any homework assignments and discuss how they went.

In CBT, core beliefs and schemas play a significant role in understanding an individual’s cognitive processes and emotional well-being. Automatic negative thoughts are closely tied to these core beliefs and schemas, and they contribute to the development and maintenance of psychological distress. Cognitive restructuring, a key technique in CBT, helps individuals challenge and change their maladaptive thought patterns, leading to improved mental health.


Core Beliefs are the most important beliefs that drive our thoughts and behaviors. Core beliefs are deeply ingrained assumptions or beliefs individuals hold about themselves, others, and the world around them. They are formed early in life and can be influenced by experiences, upbringing, and cultural factors. Core beliefs are often broad and generalized, shaping an individual’s perception of themselves, their abilities, and their interactions with others. For example, someone with a core belief of “I am unlovable” may consistently interpret social interactions as evidence of rejection. They can be positive or negative, and they’re formed through a combination of genetics, environment, culture and life experiences. Core beliefs are often unconscious–meaning we don’t realize they’re there until we try to change them. That’s why CBT focuses on identifying your core beliefs and challenging them in order for you to see how they affect your life in a negative way. CBT has been shown to help people with depression and anxiety disorders because it teaches patients how their thoughts directly impact their moods: if you think positively about yourself or an event happening in your life (like getting a promotion at work), then chances are good that those positive feelings will lead to better outcomes than if someone else had made those exact same statements but spoken with pessimism instead!

Schemas are mental frameworks that organize, interpret, and predict information. We develop schemas based on our life experiences. Schemas are cognitive frameworks or mental structures that help individuals organize and interpret information. They are developed based on core beliefs and guide the processing of new information. Schemas act as filters, influencing how individuals perceive and make sense of their experiences. If someone has a schema of “the world is dangerous,” they may constantly anticipate threats, leading to heightened anxiety and fear responses. Schemas can be positive or negative; they may also be self-defeating (i.e., leading to depression or anxiety). Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people identify their schemas by asking them questions like: What types of situations do you feel nervous about? What does this situation remind you of? How would someone else describe this situation? By exploring these types of questions with their therapist, clients learn more about their own personal patterns and how they relate specifically to the issue at hand (such as social anxiety). As clients gain insight into these patterns in themselves–or rather than just being told by others what those patterns might be–they become better equipped to challenge these negative thoughts when they arise during therapy sessions before they spiral out of control into full-blown panic attacks!

Automatic Thoughts are the thoughts that run through your head. Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are spontaneous, involuntary, and often distorted thoughts that arise in response to specific situations or triggers. They are linked to underlying core beliefs and schemas. ANTs can be self-critical, pessimistic, or catastrophizing, leading to emotional distress. Examples of ANTs include thoughts like “I always mess up,” “Nobody likes me,” or “This will never work.” They are not necessarily conscious, can be intrusive or conscious, and will influence how you feel and act. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative, realistic or unrealistic, helpful or unhelpful. For example: “I’ll never get this done on time!” is an automatic thought that may lead to feelings of anxiety and stress; whereas “I’m doing my best” could help reduce these feelings by reminding you that there is no need to panic right now (and also reminds us of what we can do).

Cognitive Restructuring: This intervention involves changing the way you think about a situation in order to change your feelings and behaviors. For example, if you feel sad because of something that happened at work, cognitive restructuring involves thinking about how other people would view the situation (and therefore not have as bad of a reaction), or considering what might happen next time so as not to get upset again. Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic technique used in CBT to challenge and modify negative, maladaptive thoughts and beliefs. It involves identifying cognitive distortions, evaluating their accuracy and helpfulness, and replacing them with more balanced and realistic thoughts. This process encourages individuals to gather evidence to support or refute their automatic thoughts, consider alternative explanations, and adopt more positive and adaptive perspectives. By engaging in cognitive restructuring, individuals can gain a greater understanding of their cognitive processes, challenge negative thinking patterns, and develop healthier and more positive beliefs about themselves and the world. This process leads to improved emotional well-being, reduced distress, and enhanced coping skills. It’s important to note that while this information provides an overview of these concepts, the application of CBT techniques should be done by qualified mental health professionals who can tailor the therapy to meet the specific needs of each individual.

Emotion Regulation: Emotions are important signals that tell us when something needs attention and action, but sometimes they’re too strong or last too long–in which case it can be helpful to learn skills for managing our emotions better so that we don’t let them control us! Some common emotion regulation techniques include relaxation exercises like deep breathing; mindfulness practices like meditation; taking breaks from tasks when feeling overwhelmed by them; identifying triggers for certain types of negative emotions (like feeling anxious before going into public spaces); finding ways other than drinking alcohol or eating junk food when stressed out.

Behavioral Activation is an intervention that involves someone using behaviors to influence their emotional state. It is often a part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but it can also be a standalone treatment. Most research into behavioral activation has focused on its effect on depression. This is because people with depression often lose interest in activities they used to enjoy or no longer find pleasure in their hobbies. A loss of interest in one’s hobbies can intensify the symptoms of depression, particularly if the person stops activities that were meaningful, that helped them maintain social connections, or that bolstered their self-esteem. Behavioral activation encourages people to engage in “antidepressant behaviors” to counter this.

Cognitive Distortions:

Cognitive distortions are thinking patterns that contribute to negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors. These distortions involve errors or biases in interpreting information. Here’s a comprehensive list of common cognitive distortions with brief descriptions of each:

1. All-or-nothing thinking (or black-and-white thinking): Seeing things as either all good or all bad, without acknowledging any shades of gray or middle ground. This rigid thinking pattern can lead to extremes in judgment and limited flexibility in problem-solving.

2. Overgeneralization: Drawing broad conclusions based on limited evidence or a single negative experience. It involves applying one instance or characteristic to all similar situations, often resulting in negative expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies.

3. Mental filtering (or selective abstraction): Focusing only on specific negative details or events while ignoring positive aspects. This distortion can lead to a skewed perception of reality, where the positive is discounted and the negative is amplified.

4. Disqualifying the positive: Discounting or dismissing positive experiences, qualities, or accomplishments, attributing them to luck or external factors. This often leads to a persistent negative self-image and a sense of inadequacy.

5. Jumping to conclusions: Making negative assumptions or conclusions without sufficient evidence. This distortion can manifest in two ways:
– Mind reading: Believing you know what others are thinking, assuming their thoughts are negative or critical.
– Fortune telling: Predicting negative outcomes without considering other possibilities or evidence.

6. Magnification and minimization: Exaggerating the importance of negative events, qualities, or mistakes (magnification) while downplaying the significance of positive ones (minimization). This distortion can result in distorted perceptions of reality and an overemphasis on the negative.

7. Emotional reasoning: Believing that your emotions reflect objective reality, assuming that if you feel something, it must be true. This distortion can lead to irrational decision-making and a lack of critical evaluation.

8. Personalization: Assuming excessive personal responsibility or blaming oneself for events or situations that are beyond personal control. This distortion often involves perceiving oneself as the cause of negative outcomes without considering other contributing factors.

9. Should statements: Using rigid rules and “should” or “must” statements to govern behavior and evaluate oneself and others. This can lead to self-criticism, guilt, and unrealistic expectations.

10. Labeling and mislabeling: Assigning global and negative labels to oneself or others based on specific behaviors or mistakes. This distortion oversimplifies complex human behavior and undermines self-esteem.

11. Catastrophizing: Magnifying the negative aspects of a situation and imagining the worst possible outcomes. This distortion often involves excessive worry and anxiety about future events.

12. Personal fallacy: Believing that your actions or characteristics should be perfect or flawless to be worthwhile. This distortion can lead to chronic self-doubt and fear of failure.

13. Control fallacies: Believing that you have complete control over external events (external control fallacy) or no control at all (internal control fallacy). These distortions can lead to feelings of helplessness or an excessive need for control.

14. Blaming: Assigning excessive responsibility for negative events or outcomes to oneself or others. This distortion can perpetuate a victim mentality or a cycle of guilt and resentment.

It’s important to remember that everyone may experience these cognitive distortions from time to time, but when they become habitual and automatic, they can significantly impact mental well-being. Recognizing and challenging these distortions is a crucial step in cognitive restructuring and improving overall mental health.