CBT Therapy – A Breakdown

By Sarah Fader

Updated June 17, 2019

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an extremely common type of therapy often used to treat anxiety disorders as well as depression. According to scientific research studies, CBT is as effective in the treatment of depression as antidepressants.

The most optimal treatment plan (in my opinion as an anxiety sufferer) is medication in conjunction with therapy. However, this is context dependent. If a person is living with anxiety and feels that they don't need medication, CBT is a great place for that individual to start. The focus of CBT is on helping you understand your thoughts and thought patterns. Our thoughts can actually impact our moods. With the coping techniques of CBT, you have the power to change your feelings as well as your behaviors.

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CBT teaches you about cognitive distortions. Often we are unaware of these unhealthy patterns of thinkin until we learn about how they impact our lives in a pejorative way, and at that point we can change the way we think about things. Here are the cognitive distortions:

  1. Filtering.

This means that you take the negative details and magnify them. Then you ignore the positive attributes of a situation. For example, a person could focus on one negative thing and ruminate on it. Then their vision of the situation is distorted in a negative light.

2. "Black and White" Thinking

In this distortion you see things as "black-or-white." There are no shades of gray or middle ground. Either you are perfect or you are a complete failure. There is no in between, and we know that this is inaccurate in life.

3. Overgeneralization.

This means that you are concluding something based on one thing that happened. Just because something occurs one time, it doesn't mean it will happen every subsequent time. This is overgeneralization and it can be destructive to your thinking.

4. Jumping to Conclusions/Mind Reading

You cannot know what another person is thinking. In this distortion, you are jumping to a conclusion, because of your emotional reaction to another person. It's better to ask that person how they feel, rather than assume it.

5. Catastrophizing.

This means that you imagine a terrible scenario where a horrible thing happens, based upon a tiny detail. For example, if your friend doesn't call you back, you might assume she hates you and will never be your friend again, or that she died.

6. Personalization.

Personalization means that you believe that it is about you. An event occurs and you are convinced that it was because of you. Someone's negative response is because you did something wrong. In reality, there are a number of factors at play here and it's not necessarily all about you.

7. Control Fallacies.

You see yourself as helpless and a victim of fate. There is nothing you can do to change your life, because it is predetermined and hence you are doomed. This is inaccurate, and you do have the power to make decisions and advocate for yourself.

  1. Fallacy of Fairness.

Life isn't fair; we've heard this time and time again. However, lamenting about how you are being treated unfairly and there is a vast conspiracy against you is also an exaggeration. There is a balance here, and it needs to be addressed.

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9. Blaming.

It's important to take responsibility and be accountable for your actions. If you feel a certain way, it isn't because of someone else. They could have said something that hurt your feelings, but they didn't "make you feel that way." It's not productive to tell someone "You made me feel bad." What's more productive is to say "I feel hurt when you say ___." Use your I-statements and you will avoid this distortion.

10. Should Statements

A therapist once told me "stop shoulding all over yourself." And it's true, when we say "I should do ___," it induced guilt and shame in us. There is no need to say "I should be" or "I ought to," because there is no rule book for life. You are free to do what you want when you want.

11. Emotional Reasoning

You feel a certain way, therefore it must be the truth. Feelings are not the ultimate indicator of what is logically true. You could feel that someone is angry at you, but until you check in with them and ask, you won't know the truth.

  1. Fallacy of Change.

We believe that we have the power to change other people if we cajole them enough. This isn't true, and a person will change on their own time.

  1. Labeling

"I'm a failure," "I'm a bad friend," "I am stupid." These are all examples of labeling. It's unhelpful to call yourself names. You are a human being with a multitude of qualities, but you are not one thing. We all have flaws, but we are not exclusively identified by them.

  1. Always Being Right.

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Nobody is right at all times, and in fact, there is no right and wrong in a given argument. There is subjectivity and different people's perspectives. You have your opinion and I have mine. We could be looking at the same shade of green and you think it's blue, while I insist that it's green. No one is right in this situation, it's a matter of opinion.

  1. Heaven's Reward Fallacy

We believe that if we do the right thing, we will be rewarded somehow in life. This couldn't be further from the truth. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa. There is no one keeping score, and we do the best that we can in our lives.

Learning coping techniques associated with CBT including cognitive distortions and thought records are extraordinarily helpful for people with anxiety and depression. I can personally attest to the efficacy of CBT for myself. If you are struggling with negative thought patterns, find a therapist who specializes in CBT, you will be surprised at how much of your thoughts are distorted. It's amazing how CBT provides that level of insight into our thinking and has the capacity to better our lives.


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