Understanding And Countering Cognitive Distortions In CBT

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines a cognitive distortion as “faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief.” The APA goes on to say that this is a normal process that all people can experience to some degree. Imagine holding the power to change the way you think, to transform your perception of the world from a place often clouded with negativity into one teeming with balanced thought and positivity. 

Welcome to the world of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) a therapeutic approach that aims to help people identify and counter cognitive distortions, where understanding and countering cognitive distortions might become your keys to enjoy a happier, healthier mindset. 

CBT isn’t necessarily about silencing negative thoughts but—it's often about learning to challenge, reshape, and ultimately gain control over them. If you've ever experienced negative thought patterns or black-and-white thinking, this exploration might be for you. The following article about cognitive distortions may help you learn more about overcoming them. 

Getty/Sarah Waiswa
Changing your thinking habits is possible

What are cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions, at their core, are biased perspectives we have about ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we may unknowingly reinforce over time, contributing to various mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and relationship turbulence. 

Almost everyone experiences cognitive distortions from time to time, and they .

Common cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions can manifest in our daily lives in many ways. However, some classifications of these distortions are more commonly experienced than others. Below are some of these common cognitive distortions you might encounter from time to time: 

All-or-nothing thinking (black-and-white thinking)

Black-and-white thinking can often push us to extremes. We might see everything as black or white, good or bad, with no middle ground or room for nuances. This binary thinking can create unnecessary stress and worry, as life rarely falls neatly into these categories.

Emotional reasoning

According to Harvard Health Publishing, emotional reasoning is “a process in which our negative feelings about ourselves inform our thoughts, as if they were factually based, in the absence of any facts to support these unpleasant feelings.” For example, we might tell ourselves that we are not good at anything, even when there is evidence that we are performing well at work or school. convinces us that our emotional reactions define the truth of a situation. For example, if we feel anxious about a task, we might assume it must be dangerous or overly challenging. This distortion can heighten negative thought patterns and inhibit our ability to see situations objectively.  **A good definition of emotional reasoning is - because we feel it, it must make it true. This is faulty thinking. It is not just about negative thoughts about ourselves. It is again, making feelings into facts.**

Mental filter (selective abstraction)

In mental filtering, we may filter out the positive aspects of a situation and focus exclusively on the negatives. L, like a sieve that only catches the bad stuff, t. This distortion often leads to a distorted view of reality, reinforcing negative thoughts and feelings.

Jumping to conclusions

With this cognitive distortion, we may make negative predictions, often expecting the worst possible outcome (catastrophic thinking). We might also assume we know what others think or feel without evidence—a cognitive distortion called mind-reading.

Spotting negative thought patterns

Recognizing the cognitive distortions embedded in our thought patterns can be an initial step toward change. Negative thinking is not merely pessimistic; —it's a skewed view of reality. Look out for blame, self-doubt, and generalization patterns in your thoughts. Understand that a negative thought is not necessarily a reflection of reality but rather a product of cognitive distortion.

Countering cognitive distortions with CBT

CBT typically employs various techniques to help individuals recognize and counter cognitive distortions. The following are some techniques that may be used during CBT as well as individually.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a process by which we can identify, challenge, and alter cognitive distortions and negative thought patterns. By examining our thoughts more objectively, we may react more appropriately to situations and mitigate the impact of cognitive distortions on our lives. This process may be facilitated by a licensed therapist who can help you see patterns in your thinking that you might not notice.


Mindfulness typically encourages us to focus on the present moment, helping us not to get swept up by negative thoughts about the past or the future. It's a powerful tool that can aid us in observing our thoughts without judgment, allowing for a deeper understanding and better control over them.us to experience freedom from identification with thought.



Keeping a thought record or journal of thoughts may provide invaluable insights into our cognitive distortions. Writing down our thoughts may help us to analyze them, potentially making it easier to identify and change distorted thoughts. Research suggests that journaling may also reduce symptoms of mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression.

Positive reframing

Positive reframing is about finding positive aspects in otherwise challenging situations. This technique encourages optimism and resilience, perhaps helping us to balance our perspective and reduce the hold of cognitive distortions.

Enhancing cognitive flexibility

Once you've grasped the fundamentals of cognitive distortions, cognitive flexibility can be a vital concept to explore. Cognitive flexibility is our mental ability to switch between thoughts or actions, adapt to new situations, or view a scenario from multiple perspectives.

This flexibility can be a powerful antidote to rigid, black-and-white thinking. It can often provide the mental agility needed to challenge and replace distorted thoughts that have kept us stuck in negative loops.

Shifting perspectives

Practicing the art of shifting perspectives often allows us to understand numerous ways to view a situation. Instead of getting tangled in a single negative thought or outcome, we may explore other potential interpretations. Shifting perspectives can challenge those cognitive distortions that insist there's only one way to see things.

Increasing tolerance for ambiguity

Increasing our tolerance for ambiguity means may involve accepting that, sometimes, life is full of gray areas. Not every complex or challenging situation has a clear-cut answer, and that's okay. This understanding can usually help counter all-or-nothing thinking, which tends to view everything as entirely right or wrong.

Self-compassion: The healing ingredient

As we navigate the maze of cognitive distortions and learn to counter them, self-compassion can be a vital constant companion. Self-compassion typically means treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, especially during challenging times or when we notice ourselves falling into familiar negative thought patterns.

Self-compassion doesn’t necessarily involve ignoring our flaws or failures but acknowledging them with a non-judgmental understanding. By treating ourselves with compassion, we may create a safe space where change can take root and flourish.

Using CBT tools for countering cognitive distortions

Cognitive behavioral therapy offers a multitude of tools to help counter cognitive distortions. Some of these techniques may be more beneficial for you than others, so it can be worthwhile to explore what works for you. The following are two CBT tools to counter cognitive distortions:

Guided discovery

Guided discovery is a CBT technique where the therapist guides the client in exploring and understanding their cognitive distortions. The therapist uses a series of Socratic questions designed to help the client realize their cognitive distortions and generate alternative, healthier thoughts.

Behavioral experiments

Behavioral experiments typically involve testing the validity of our cognitive distortions through real-life experiences. For instance, if we continually fear a negative outcome, we might challenge this belief by facing the situation and observing the results. Through this method, we may gain concrete evidence that disputes our distortions and, reducing their power.

Importance of professional guidance

Although we can take many steps to counter cognitive distortions, professional guidance is invaluable. Trained therapists, experienced in cognitive therapy, can often provide tailored strategies and approaches, which may be especially beneficial when negative thought patterns become overwhelming.

Possible benefits of therapy for cognitive distortions

We often grapple with our thoughts, trying to reshape them independently. However, there can be a profound power in seeking professional help, especially when you’re dealing with persistent cognitive distortions. Cognitive Therapy can often offer a supportive environment, personalized strategies, and a fresh perspective, which may help in navigating the journey to healthier thinking.

A safe, non-judgmental space

One potential benefit of therapy is the opportunity to express your thoughts and feelings openly in a safe, non-judgmental environment. You don't have to fear being misunderstood or invalidated. Therapists are often trained to understand cognitive distortions and provide empathetic support as you reveal, explore, and work to change your cognitive distortions. 

Personalized strategies

Everyone's experience with cognitive distortions is unique. Thus, it may be best to have personalized approaches to tackling them.  should be personalized. Therapists can often help develop a tailored plan to help you address your specific cognitive distortions. Whether it's enhancing your ability to identify distortions or providing tools to counteract black-and-white thinking, your therapist may guide you based on your specific needs and circumstances.

Skill building

Therapy can often equip you with essential skills to effectively counter cognitive distortions. These skills may include cognitive restructuring, emotional regulation, problem-solving, and resilience building, all of which may lead to thought patterns that serve you and change your framing of life situations.

Fresh perspective

Sometimes, being in the thick of our cognitive distortions can make it difficult to see them. As an outside observer, a therapist may offer a fresh, unbiased perspective. They can help illuminate patterns you may not have noticed and provide insights that can lead to breakthroughs.

The power of online therapy for cognitive distortions

If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-office therapy at this time, you may benefit from online therapy. With online therapy, you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home at a time that works for you. You can also write to your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This may prove to be helpful if you experience cognitive distortions in between sessions and want to communicate them to your therapist. Therapy administered by a credentialed and certified mental health professional may help you achieve personal growth and a more fulfilling life. With professional guidance and a commitment to change, therapy may offer profound and lasting benefits, helping you to untangle from cognitive distortions and embrace a more balanced, positive mindset.

For people with mobility challenges or those with unreliable transportation options, though, traditional, in-office therapy might not be accessible. In these situations, online therapy may provide a suitable alternative. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Changing your thinking habits is possible

Online therapy has been shown by numerous studies to be effective for a variety of mental health challenges. A recent study focusing on the effectiveness of online CBT found promising results for those living with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among other conclusions, the study showed nearly identical effectiveness of online CBT relative to in-person therapy. 


Understanding and countering cognitive distortions can be an empowering journey toward better mental health. While there are ways to counter cognitive distortions on your own, you may benefit from speaking with a licensed therapist, who may be able to identify cognitive distortions you haven’t noticed. 

It's not about achieving perfection but, rather, gradual improvement and cultivating resilience. With the right approach and support, cognitive distortions can be restructured, paving the way for balanced thinking, healthier emotional responses, and a more fulfilling life. Take the first step toward countering cognitive distortions and reach out to BetterHelp today.

Explore mental health and healing in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started