Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy is about learning to be aware of understand how you are thinking, behaving, and communicating. Its focus is on discovering how early childhood experiences and past traumas may be affecting your way of thinking, and causing distortions in your perception of a given situation.

Identifying specific distortions and learning how to change this way of thinking can be very helpful with the treatment of psychological problems including depression, anxiety, panic, phobias, anger, marital conflict, loneliness, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

The way we think about a situation can either calm us down, or worsen anxiety. We often have “automatic thoughts” that we may be unaware of. This is perfectly normal. Most of us usually have a constant stream of thoughts.

But when we begin to notice the frequent recurrence of a strong emotion such as a sense of panic, anxiety, or despair, it is important that we begin to listen to and adjust our internal dialogue. The way we perceive ourselves, others, and our environment greatly affects the way we feel emotionally.

Most of us have developed assumptions about things based on our upbringing and past experiences that may be “distorted”. These assumptions create our set of unspoken beliefs about the world, other people, relationships, and life in general.Cognitive therapy is about learning to identify these distorted beliefs.

A few common distorted beliefs are thoughts such as:

“To be happy, I must be accepted by everyone.”

“I can’t do anything right.”

“Nobody likes or understands me.”

“If I fail it’s because I’m stupid.”

“I can’t live without you.”

Most of us learned our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us before we could evaluate these beliefs. We learned by absorbing these assumptions from our parents or other important role models. Not only did we learn specific assumptions, but we also learned a style of thinking. As we get older, we may alter some of these ideas but the assumptions we make are usually ones we have held for a long time and aren’t even aware of.

You may not even hear your thoughts when you are having them. But they still affect the way you interpret things, your emotions and behavior. The beliefs systems developed during childhood are usually out of our awareness. They are not really part of our conscious thinking. With cognitive therapy we can examine the truth value of our beliefs.

These beliefs often tell us the way we “should” be or the way the world “ought to be”. It is when reality doesn’t conform to these “rules” that we react or feel like a failure, angry, or disappointed. These irrational beliefs often take the form of “ought”, “should”, “always”, and “never.” They tend to set standards that are impossible to live up to and when we don’t live up to these standards we feel badly.

This is why it is so important to use cognitive therapy to help us identify our internal distortions, and distorted thinking styles.

Common Distorted Thinking Styles

All or Nothing Thinking.

Looking at things in absolute, black and white categories. Refusing to see possible “shades of gray.”

Over Generalization.

Viewing a negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. E.g. Taking a single failure in one segment of your life and drawing conclusions from it for your whole life. The “generalizer” needs to only fail once to imagine a million failures thereafter and those imagined failures are as painful as the real ones.

Mental Filter.

Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives. This is a distortion of what really happens and a tendency to only see the negative aspects of an event.

Magnification and Minimizing.

“Catastrophizing”(“making a mountain out of a molehill”) or adopting the attitude that something that is very important “doesn’t matter anyway.” Or accepting unnecessary defeat.

Emotional Reasoning.

Reasoning from emotions felt rather than from reason or facts. E.g. “I feel like an idiot so I really must be.” Or , “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll just put it off.


Legalism. The belief that there is only one way things should be without room for exception. The assumption that anything that falls short of the way it “should” be is wrong and to be considered failure.

Labeling or Mislabeling.

Identifying or labeling yours or other’s shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake”, you tell yourself “I’m a jerk”, “fool”, or “loser”. This is a form of over generalization.

Personalization and Blame.

Blaming yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might have contributed to the problem.

With the help of cognitive therapy, we can change our underlying beliefs. It is up to each of us to hear our own cognitive distortions and to learn to challenge them. We have power over our feelings and thinking habits. By changing our thoughts and behaviors, we can change our feelings. Conversations with yourself can get it out there so it can be worked on.

Treatment plan Day 6

Feelings list