10 Principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy — Mind My Peelings (2022)

What is CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that explores the links between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

CBT is a goal-oriented, time-based, structured treatment that is effective for a range of mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression.

It is the most widely researched psychotherapy and has a strong evidence-based framework that supports the effectiveness of the treatment.

Basics of CBT

CBT is focused on learning to alter your thoughts (cognitions) and your actions (behaviors), which is why it is called cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Aaron Beck, known as the Father of CBT, defined three levels of cognition:

  1. Core Beliefs

  2. Dysfunctional Assumptions

  3. Automatic Negative Thoughts

1. Core Beliefs

2. Dysfunctional Assumptions (Cognitive Distortions)

Dysfunctional Assumptions occur because we tend to focus on the negatives. This causes a distorted perception of reality and misinterpretation of information.

These cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns that are exaggerated by negative thinking and feelings. There are 15 common distortions that distort our perceptions of reality in a negative way.

3. Automatic Negative Thoughts

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Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are involuntary negative perceptions of reality that occur habitually. They can be difficult to recognize because they are fleeting and cause negative emotions to occur.

You can challenge ANTs by altering your thoughts and reframing them more rationally and positively.

Beck’s Cognitive Model

The CBT model was developed by Aaron Beck and used as a framework to understand a person’s mental distress. This framework follows a simple process:

It starts with a distressing situation/trigger → which causes a person to have negative thoughts → this causes negative emotions and physical distress → which leads to negative behaviors.

Here is an example of someone who gets anxious around dogs compared to someone who isn't in the same situation:

This visual representation of your anxiety helps you understand what is actually happening. It can help you realize that your thoughts are not facts and seeing them laid out in this framework can help break the cycle.

History of CBT

The adoption of cognitive-behavioral therapy progressed slowly over time and was considered controversial during its development.

Dr. Albert Ellis pioneered behavior therapy in the 1950s with his work on helping patients identify and challenge irrational thoughts.

In the 1960s Dr. Aaron T. Beck developed the practice for cognitive behavioral therapy. His theories on cognitive distortions helped evolve CBT to what we know today.

Aaron Beck’s approach to psychotherapy was groundbreaking and the scientific evidence today has proven the efficacy of his theories.

Dr. Judith S. Beck followed her father’s footsteps and made a significant impact on CBT as well. She developed 10 principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy to provide an effective CBT treatment program.

Principles of CBT

Although therapy should be tailored to an individual's needs, Judith Beck defined 10 principles that underlie cognitive behavior therapy for all patients. These principles are outlined in her book: Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond.

1. CBT is based on an ever-evolving formulation of patients’ problems and an individual conceptualization of each patient in cognitive terms

The patient's current thinking patterns and problematic behaviors are identified. Several factors must be considered including the patient's life experiences, throughout childhood, and even through the therapy sessions.

A conceptualization of the patient is formulated based on the information gathered to provide an accurate picture of the patient’s whole situation. This conceptualization is refined each session as more information becomes available.

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2. CBT requires a sound therapeutic alliance

It is important to have a strong trusting relationship between the therapist and patient. The therapist should be able to provide care, warmth, empathy, and competence.

3. CBT emphasizes collaboration and active participation

Teamwork is encouraged throughout the sessions and decisions of what to work on and how often are decided together. Active participation from the patient is important for making a lasting impact in their treatment.

4. CBT is goal-oriented and problem-focused

The patient should set specific goals during the initial sessions. Goals are necessary to evaluate and respond to thoughts that interfere with those goals. This helps the patient easily identify and interrupt those thoughts.

5. CBT initially emphasizes the present

The treatment should be focused on current problems and specific situations that are distressing to them.

CBT only considers the past when the patient expresses a strong preference to do so or the patient gets stuck in dysfunctional thinking and trying to understand their childhood can potentially help modify their core beliefs.

6. CBT is educative, aims to teach the patient to be their own therapist, and emphasizes relapse prevention

Teaching the patient to understand the process, how their thoughts influence emotions and behavior, how to identify and evaluate their thoughts and beliefs, and plan for behavioral changes is an essential part of CBT.

7. CBT aims to be time-limited

Straightforward anxiety and depression can typically be treated within 6 to 14 sessions. However, for those with more severe mental illnesses and rigid beliefs, the time frame can range from a few months to years if necessary.

8. CBT sessions are structured

Structured treatment helps maximize efficiency and effectiveness. This process includes:

9. CBT teaches patients to identify, evaluate, and respond to their dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs

Therapists help patients identify key cognitions and adopt more realistic, rational perspectives.

This is achieved through the process of guided discovery by questioning their thoughts to evaluate their thinking. Also, the therapist creates behavioral experiments for the patient to directly test their thinking.

10. CBT uses a variety of techniques to change thinking, mood, and behavior

Behavioral and problem-solving techniques are essential in CBT. The types of techniques the therapist will select will be influenced by the conceptualization of the patient, the problem you are discussing, and your objectives for the session.

CBT Treatment

What you can expect to see from a CBT treatment program with a therapist:

  1. Structured and Educational: CBT sessions are well structured and meant to be educational. This means there is as much emphasis on work outside of your therapy session as during.

  2. Collaborative: Your therapist will work with you and expect active participation and commitment to see positive changes.

  3. Goal-Oriented: Your therapist will work with you to define specific goals that solve your existing problems.

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  4. Time-Based: Most people can expect their program to have 6-14 sessions. CBT is not meant to be continuous, rather you are expected to learn the skills to be your own therapist.

CBT is a type of therapy that requires active participation from the patient. You need to put in the effort and work to benefit from the treatment.

What You Will Learn in CBT

The main focus of CBT is to alter your negative thoughts and behaviors to be more rational. Throughout your CBT sessions you can expect to learn to:

  • identify problems and build awareness of your negative thoughts and behavior

  • recognize your thoughts are opinions and be able to distinguish between facts and irrational thoughts

  • consciously challenge and reframe dysfunctional assumptions

  • set achievable goals

  • be more present and kind to yourself

  • develop a more positive perspective of situations

  • be more resilient and in control of your problems

  • become your own therapist and practice relapse prevention

Basic CBT Techniques

There are various techniques that will be utilized during your CBT treatment. Here are 10 common techniques used in cognitive therapy:

  1. ABC Model: Helps you reinterpret irrational beliefs resulting in alternative behaviors.

  2. Guided Discovery: The therapist will put themselves in your shoes and try to see things from your viewpoint. They will walk you through the process by asking you questions to challenge and broaden your thinking.

  3. Exposure Therapy: Exposing yourself to the trigger can reduce responses. It may be uncomfortable during the initial sessions but is generally performed in a controlled environment with the therapist's help. This treatment is beneficial for phobias.

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  4. Cognitive Restructuring: This treatment focuses on finding and altering irrational thoughts so they are adaptive and reasonable.

  5. Activity Scheduling: The therapist will help identify and schedule helpful behaviors that you enjoy doing. This can include hobbies or fun and rewarding activities.

  6. The Worst Case/Best Case/Most Likely Case Scenario: Letting your thoughts ruminate and explore all three scenarios helps you rationalize your thoughts and develop actionable steps so control of the behavior is realized.

  7. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: This approach encourages you to accept and embrace the feelings rather than fighting them. This differs from traditional CBT where you’re taught to control the thoughts.

  8. Journaling: Recording your thoughts in a journal or diary can help build awareness of cognitive errors and help better understand your personal cognition.

  9. Behavioral Experiments: These experiments are designed to test and identify negative thought patterns. You’ll be asked to predict what will happen and discuss the results later. It’s better to start with lower anxiety experiments before tackling more distressing ones.

  10. Role-Playing: This technique can help you practice difficult scenarios you may encounter. It can lessen the fear and help improve problem-solving skills, social interactions, building confidence for specific situations, and improving communication skills.

Pros and Cons of CBT

Although the cognitive-behavioral approach has been proven to be effective for most people with a wide range of applications, it isn’t necessarily for everyone.

Here are the advantages of the CBT approach:

  • can be completed in a relatively short period of time for most people

  • can help treat some mental illnesses where medication alone has not improved symptoms

  • focuses on altering your thoughts and behaviors to make changes to how you feel

  • teaches you practical strategies that can be applied in your daily life

  • provides the skills for you to be your own therapist enable you to be proactive and prevent relapses

Some of the disadvantages of CBT are:

Now that you are familiar with the principles of CBT and treatment techniques utilized, start challenging and reframe automatic thoughts today.


What are the 10 cognitive distortions? ›

10 Cognitive Distortions Identified in CBT
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking.
  • Overgeneralization.
  • Mental Filters.
  • Discounting the Positive.
  • Jumping to Conclusions.
  • Magnification.
  • Emotional Reasoning.
  • "Should" Statements.
13 Nov 2021

What are the basic principles of this behavioral therapy? ›

Behavioral therapy techniques use reinforcement, punishment, shaping, modeling, and related techniques to alter behavior. These methods have the benefit of being highly focused, which means they can produce fast and effective results.

Can you do cognitive behavioral therapy by yourself? ›

Many studies have found that self-directed CBT can be very effective. Two reviews that each included over 30 studies (see references below) found that self-help treatment significantly reduced both anxiety and depression, especially when the treatments used CBT techniques.

What is a CBT Triangle? ›

The CBT triangle, or cognitive triangle, is a tool used by therapists and others to teach the concept of changing negative patterns of thought. The points of the triangle show how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. By changing one of these three points, you can change the others for the better.

Is overthinking a cognitive distortion? ›

These types of thoughts fall into the category of overthinking, which can usually be described as negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. If any of these patterns describe you, you're not alone. According to Tseng and Poppenk (2020), the average human being has at least 6,200 thoughts daily.

What are 3 basic principles concepts of CBT? ›

These strategies might include: developing and practicing new coping skills. setting short- and long-term goals. developing new problem-solving skills.

What are the major principles of cognitive theory? ›

Cognitive learning principles focus on what you know rather than what has happened to you; are oriented toward structure and order; and focus on plans, active approaches, and profitability.

What are 3 major aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others. Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations. Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one's own abilities.

Who does CBT not work for? ›

Certain CBT techniques may be ineffective for many types of mental disorders. In a landmark 2009 review published in the journal Psychological Medicine, the study authors concluded that: (CBT) is of no value in treating schizophrenia and has limited effect on depression.

Why is CBT good for anxiety? ›

CBT addresses anxiety by helping people make changes to the way they think and behave during times when they are anxious. CBT aims to help people interrupt and change the worried thoughts that feed into anxiety, while also helping to reduce avoidant behaviors.

How effective is cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety? ›

Does CBT For Anxiety Work? According to some studies using CBT to treat anxiety disorders can be as effective as using medication to treat anxiety disorders. Some people don't respond well to medical for disorders like depression or anxiety.

What are the 3 types of cognitive therapies? ›

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Cognitive Therapy (CT) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

What are the 4 components of CBT? ›

In CBT/cognitive therapy, we recgonize that, in addition to your environment, there are generally four components that act together to create and maintain anxiety: the physiological, the cognitive, the behavioural, and the emotional. These are described below.

What are thinking traps? ›

Thinking traps are patterns of thought – usually with a negative swing – which prevent us from seeing things as they really are. Otherwise known as cognitive distortions, thinking traps are often deeply ingrained in our psyche.

What is self-talk in CBT? ›

Some of these thoughts are called internal dialogue or self-talk. They tend to be the things you say about yourself when you face challenges, obstacles, or problems throughout the day. Self-talk tends to happen in your head at normal speed. It is just the usual dialogue you have with yourself.

How do you do CBT for negative self-talk? ›

Negative Self-Talk: 4 CBT Strategies To Overcome Harmful Internal Dialogues
  1. First, familiarize yourself with your most critical internal monologue. ...
  2. Ask yourself whether negative thoughts are accurate. ...
  3. Talk back to unnecessarily negative thoughts. ...
  4. Replace the critic with self-compassion.

How do I stop assuming and overthinking? ›

Tips on How to Stop Overthinking
  1. Become aware of when you're thinking too much. Pay attention to the way you think.
  2. Challenge your thoughts. ...
  3. Keep the focus on active problem-solving. ...
  4. Schedule time for reflection — only 20 minutes of worrying.
  5. Practice mindfulness. ...
  6. Change the channel.
13 Mar 2019

What is cognitive anxiety? ›

cognitive anxiety refers to the negative thoughts and doubts someone may experience. somatic anxiety relates to the physiological symptoms brought on by high pressure moments.

How do you reframe negative thoughts? ›

So let's dig deeper: How exactly do we reframe these negative thoughts?
  1. Awareness. Focus on your awareness of your negative thinking traps. ...
  2. Ask Questions. Literally, ask yourself questions to get a better understanding of how to cognitively cope with this negative thought. ...
  3. Come up with an alternative view (REFRAME)

What are some examples of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

These are some of the most popular techniques used in CBT:
  • SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited.
  • Guided discovery and questioning. ...
  • Journaling. ...
  • Self-talk. ...
  • Cognitive restructuring. ...
  • Thought recording. ...
  • Positive activities. ...
  • Situation exposure.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy give an example? ›

In cognitive behavioral therapy, people are often taught new skills that can be used in real-world situations. For example, someone with a substance use disorder might practice new coping skills and rehearse ways to avoid or deal with social situations that could potentially trigger a relapse.

What is cognitive theory in simple terms? ›

Cognitive theory is an approach to psychology that attempts to explain human behavior by understanding your thought processes. 1 For example, a therapist is using principles of cognitive theory when they teach you how to identify maladaptive thought patterns and transform them into constructive ones.

How do I get the most out of cognitive behavioral therapy? ›

Getting the most out of CBT
  1. Approach therapy as a partnership. Therapy is most effective when you're an active participant and share in decision-making. ...
  2. Be open and honest. ...
  3. Stick to your treatment plan. ...
  4. Don't expect instant results. ...
  5. Do your homework between sessions. ...
  6. If therapy isn't helping, talk to your therapist.
16 Mar 2019

What are the most common cognitive distortions? ›

A List of the Most Common Cognitive Distortions
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking. ...
  • Overgeneralization. ...
  • Mental Filter. ...
  • Disqualifying the Positive. ...
  • Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading. ...
  • Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling. ...
  • Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization. ...
  • Emotional Reasoning.
29 Sept 2017

How many types of cognitive distortions are there? ›

Cognitive distortions usually develop over time in response to adverse events. There are at least 10 common distorted thinking patterns that have been identified by researchers. If you're ready to tackle a cognitive distortion, you may want to try some of the methods found in cognitive behavioral therapy.

How do you explain cognitive distortions? ›

Cognitive distortions are internal mental filters or biases that increase our misery, fuel our anxiety, and make us feel bad about ourselves. Our brains are continually processing lots of information. To deal with this, our brains seek shortcuts to cut down our mental burden.

How do you beat cognitive distortions? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the go-to approach for restructuring cognitive distortions. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, you can search for a cognitive behavioral therapist using the American Psychological Association's Find a Psychologist tool.

What are the most common cognitive disorders? ›

Cognitive Disorders

Alzheimer's disease. Attention deficit disorder. Dementia with Lewy bodies disease. Early onset dementia.

What are examples of irrational thoughts? ›

II. What are some examples of irrational beliefs?
  • I do not deserve positive attention from others.
  • I should never burden others with my problems or fears.
  • I am trash.
  • I am uncreative, nonproductive, ineffective, and untalented.
  • I am worthless.
  • I am the worst example on earth of a person.

What is cognitive anxiety? ›

cognitive anxiety refers to the negative thoughts and doubts someone may experience. somatic anxiety relates to the physiological symptoms brought on by high pressure moments.

Can anxiety cause distorted thinking? ›

When we are anxious, it is possible that our thoughts are “distorted” in some way. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that are heavily influenced by emotions and may not be consistent with the facts of a situation.

What causes negative thinking? ›

What Causes Negativity? Negativity is often a product of depression or insecurity. It can stem from illness, life events, personality problems, and substance abuse. Like many things in life, negativity too, can become a habit.

How do you reframe negative thoughts? ›

So let's dig deeper: How exactly do we reframe these negative thoughts?
  1. Awareness. Focus on your awareness of your negative thinking traps. ...
  2. Ask Questions. Literally, ask yourself questions to get a better understanding of how to cognitively cope with this negative thought. ...
  3. Come up with an alternative view (REFRAME)

What is an example of a cognitive distortion? ›

For example, “I feel like a bad mother, therefore I must be a bad mother.” This kind of thinking can be harmful as it may lead to irrational decision making and judgements. Eating disorders and other behavior changes may come from emotional reasoning.

How do I reframe thoughts on my CBT? ›

CBT and Reframing Thoughts With Cognitive Restructuring - YouTube

Why do I have so many cognitive distortions? ›

Cognitive Distortions do not have a single root cause. However, a number of studies suggest that cognitive distortions can be caused by depression. One 2018 research, found that cognitive distortions are more commonly seen in people with depression than those without.

Is there medication for cognitive distortion? ›

Conclusions: Treatment with fluoxetine over 8 weeks led to reductions in cognitive distortions, with decreased negative and increased positive affect in adolescents with MDD.

Is cognitive distortions a mental illness? ›

Distorted thinking, also called cognitive distortions, is a pattern of inaccurate, damaging thoughts. Distorted thinking is a common symptom of many different mental health disorders, including both generalized and social anxiety and personality disorders.


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