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Cognitive Restructuring

At the core of the cognitive model is the assumption that a patient’s appraisals of an event determine their feelings and reactions to it. Cognitive restructuring is an umbrella term that refers to any methods that help people to think differently about an event (which might include any stimulus, thought, memory, or belief). In a broad sense the term ‘cognitive restructuring’ could apply to anything done in (or outside of) a therapy session that promotes cognitive change. In a narrower sense, therapists deliberately use a range of therapeutic approaches designed to promote cognitive restructuring. Leahy and Rego (2012) give a narrow definition of cognitive restructuring as:
“a multistep process that involves: (1) eliciting problematic cognitions known as automatic thoughts or negative automatic thoughts of the self, world, or future, (2) formulating rational responses to these negative automatic thoughts by (3) identifying and removing cognitive distortions found in the automatic thoughts and (4) correcting false beliefs, assumptions, predictions and so on, using a Socratic dialogue.”
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Therapy tool

Anger Thought Challenging Record

Disputing thoughts is a critical skill in cognitive therapy. The Anger Thought Monitoring Record helps clients to identify and challenge their angry t ...


Barriers Abusers Overcome In Order To Abuse

Individuals who have experienced abuse often focus on their own actions (or inactions) and blame themselves for their own abuse. This client informati ...

Information Handout

Before I Blame Myself And Feel Guilty

Guilt is a common post-traumatic reaction and is often the result of cognitive bias. This CBT worksheet explores common cognitive biases that have bee ...


Behavioral Experiment

Behavioral experiments are planned experiential activities to test the validity of a belief. They are one of the most powerful techniques available to ...


Behavioral Experiment (Portrait Format)

Behavioral experiments allow individuals to test the validity of their beliefs and assumptions. They are a core experiential technique for therapeutic ...


Belief-O-Meter (CYP)

The Belief-O-Meter is an engaging way of helping children and adolescents to relate to their thoughts differently. It is a form of cognitive restructu ...


Catching Your Thoughts (CYP)

Before thoughts can be examined or challenged they must be ‘caught’ – they must be noticed and distinguished from events and feelings. The Catch ...


CBT Appraisal Model

The CBT Appraisal Model worksheet is a transdiagnostic formulation tool. The centrality of appraisals underpins all of the disorder-specific cognitive ...


CBT Thought Record Portrait

The CBT Thought Record is an essential tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. Thought challenging records help people to evaluate their negative automa ...


Challenging Your Negative Thinking (Archived)

A cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy is that an individual’s interpretation of an event determines how they feel and behave. We all experie ...


Compassionate Thought Challenging Record

Thought challenging records are commonly used in CBT to help people to evaluate their negative automatic thoughts for accuracy and bias. This Compassi ...


Court Trial Thought Challenging Record (Archived)

Note: This is an archived resource. A newer version of this resource is available at Thought Record – Courtroom Trial. Thought challenging recor ...



Catastrophic thinking (magnification) is characteristic of many anxiety problems. This CBT worksheet for decatastrophizing is a tool for cognitive res ...


Demanding Standards – Living Well With Your Personal Rules

Demanding Standards – Living Well With Your Personal Rules is a guide written for clients who have high or perfectionistic standards which cause th ...


Dysfunctional Thought Record

The Dysfunctional Thought Record is a worksheet to record and challenge dysfunctional thoughts. It encourages clients to identify the involvement of a ...


Evaluating Unhelpful Automatic Thoughts

The Evaluating Unhelpful Automatic Thoughts guide is written for clients who struggle with negative automatic thoughts. It provides a comprehensive in ...


Fact Or Opinion

One cognitive error which commonly results in distress is to act on our opinions as though they were facts. This CBT exercise helps clients to practic ...


Health Anxiety Thought Record

Individuals with health anxiety experience clinically significant distress associated with health concerns. This thought-challenging record enables cl ...


Hindsight Bias

Survivors of loss or trauma often think “If only …”. Hindsight Bias is a cognitive bias / cognitive illusion which makes events seem mor ...

Information Handout

Hotspot Record

Enhanced ‘reliving’ in trauma-focused CBT for PTSD involves addressing the meaning associated with ‘hot spots’ of traumatic me ...


Interoceptive Exposure

Misappraisals of body sensations trigger emotional and physiological reactions of fear and heightened arousal. These feelings motivate behavioral resp ...


Interpersonal Beliefs And Styles

Interpersonal issues and relationship problems form an important part of what clients bring to therapy: they might present as clients’ current conce ...


Intrusive Thoughts Images And Impulses

Intrusive Thoughts, Images, And Impulses that are experienced as distressing are a feature of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). They are also a com ...


Modifying Rules And Assumptions

Assumptions are often considered dysfunctional if they are inflexible, rigid, or lead to counterproductive behaviors. Modifying Rules And Assumptions ...


Nightmare Exposure And Rescripting

Imagery rescripting is an effective treatment for intrusive and unwanted memories. Nightmare Exposure And Rescripting employs similar techniques and c ...


Nightmare Rescripting (Audio)

Nightmare rescripting is an evidence based treatment for nightmares, with medium to large effect sizes on nightmare frequency, distress, intensity, an ...



Cognitive restructuring techniques in CBT teach clients ways of analyzing situations in ways that might initially be unfamiliar. A simple way of intro ...


Pie Charts

A common cognitive bias is to take an egocentric approach to events. When applied to negative events this can result in an exaggerated sense of respon ...


Positive Belief Record

Some cognitive change can happen quickly – for example challenging negative automatic thoughts. Other cognitive structures such as schemas are m ...


Prompts For Challenging Negative Thinking

The CBT model proposes that how we think affects the way we feel. Challenging our unhelpful thoughts (cognitive restructuring) is an essential skill w ...


REBT Consequences Analysis Form

The REBT Consequences Analysis Form is a form of ‘functional/pragmatic disputing’ and can be used to challenge and restructure irrational ...


Schema Bias

Core beliefs (schemas) are self-sustaining. They act to ‘attract’ confirmatory evidence and ‘repel’ or ‘distort’ d ...

Information Handout

Self Critical Thought Challenging Record

Disputing thoughts is a critical skill in cognitive therapy. The Self-Critical Thought Challenging Record helps clients to identify and challenge thei ...


Simple Thought Challenging Record

Disputing thoughts is a critical skill in cognitive therapy. The Simple Thought Challenging Record encourages clients to identify alternative perspect ...


Stimulus Discrimination

Stimulus discrimination is a component of cognitive behavioral treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clients are guided to deliberately ...


Stimulus Discrimination (Audio)

Stimulus Discrimination is designed to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to ‘retrain their brain’ in order to attend automat ...


Taking Panic Out Of The Body

A critical driver of panic reactions is catastrophic misinterpretation of body sensations. This worksheet helps therapists to teach clients about the ...


Testing Anxious And Panicky Predictions (Psychology Tools For Overcoming Panic)

Psychology Tools for Overcoming Panic takes a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to this common anxiety problem. This chapter introduces beh ...


Theory A / Theory B

Human beings actively try to understand their world and what happens to them. However, these understanding can be inaccurate or unhelpful. Worse, unhe ...


Theory A / Theory B (Edition 1)

“The most effective way of changing a misinterpretation … is to help the person come up with an alternative, less threatening interpretation o ...


Thought Distortion Monitoring Record

Thinking is often biased in particular ways and individuals often have their own characteristic patterns of bias. The Thought Distortion Monitoring Re ...


Thought Record – Courtroom Trial

Thought records are commonly used in CBT to help people to evaluate their negative automatic thoughts for accuracy and bias. The Thought Record – Co ...


Thought Record (Considered Response)

Thought records exist in multiple variants, depending on the needs and abilities of the client. This Thought Record (Considered Response) is a cogniti ...


Thought Record (Evidence For And Against)

CBT Thought Records exist in multiple variants, depending on the needs and abilities of the client. This Thought Record (Evidence For And Against) is ...


Thoughts In CBT (Psychology Tools For Living Well)

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help your clients to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Psychology Tools for Living Well is a self-help course ...


Unhelpful Thinking Styles

Human thinking is subject to a number of characteristic biases. In the 1960s, Aaron Beck identified several of these biases which were common in his d ...

Information Handout

Vertical Arrow Down Arrow Vertical Descent

Vertical Arrow / Downward Arrow / Vertical Descent is a form of Socratic questioning in which the therapist asks a succession of questions to uncover ...


Vicious Flower Formulation

Case conceptualizations (formulations) are designed to help clients and therapists come to a shared understanding of a problem. The ‘vicious flo ...


What If

“What if…?” questions are a powerful way in which anxious individuals generate or maintain anxious states, particularly in generaliz ...


Working With Anxious Thoughts And Predictions (Psychology Tools For Overcoming Panic)

Psychology Tools for Overcoming Panic takes a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to this common anxiety problem. This chapter introduces the ...


Worry Thought Record

Anxiety stems from negative predictions about the future (and also from assumptions that one will not be able to cope with the magnitude of the threat ...



  • Case formulation – Case conceptualization can promote cognitive restructuring by helping clients to think about their difficulties from a different perspective. For example, some clients find the process of formulation can instill hope by making potential solutions apparent
  • Psychoeducation – Learning more about a condition, disorder, or process almost by definition promotes cognitive restructuring. For example, learning about typical automatic reactions in trauma (e.g.freezing, soiling) can reduce a sense of self-blame and associated shame
  • Traditional CBT thought records – Thought records help clients to identify Negative Automatic Thoughts, then to identify any unhelpful thinking styles, then to generate alternative (cognitively restructured) ways of thinking
  • Behavioral experiments – Behavioral experiements can help clients to experimentally test the validity of beliefs which may or may not be unhelpful. They can promote cognitive restructuring by helping clients to uncover evidence which contradicts previously held beliefs
  • Socratic questioning – Guided discovery is used to explore a client’s beliefs. This can promote cognitive restructuring by making explicit belief structures, rules, and assumptions of which a client may have been unaware
  • Diaries – Diaries or other forms of evidence gathering can generate concrete evidence. This can promote cognitive restructuring by undermine unhelpful assumptions


Recommended Reading

  • Bouchard, S., Gauthier, J., Laberge, B., French, D., Pelletier, M. H., & Godbout, C. (1996). Exposure versus cognitive restructuring in the treatment of panic disorder with agoraphobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy34(3), 213-224. download archived copy
  • Bryant, R. A., Moulds, M. L., Guthrie, R. M., Dang, S. T., & Nixon, R. D. (2003). Imaginal exposure alone and imaginal exposure with cognitive restructuring in treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology71(4), 706. download

What Is Cognitive Restructuring?

Techniques for Cognitive Restructuring

  • Behavioral experiments (including hypothesis testing and surveys) have been a fundamental CBT technique since the publication of the first treatment manual: “a powerful method with which to investigate the validity of a specific assumption consists of designing an experiment or task to test the assumption empirically” (Beck et al., 1979). Bennett-Levy et al. (2004) define behavioral experiments as:

“planned experiential activities, based on experimentation or observation, which are undertaken by patients in or between cognitive therapy sessions … their primary purpose is to obtain new information which may help to: test the validity of the patients’ existing beliefs …; construct and/or test new, more adaptive beliefs; contribute to the development and verification of the cognitive formulation.”

  • Examining and reality-testing automatic thoughts and images, popularly known as ‘thought challenging’ or ‘disputing thoughts’ is a technique by which patients are encouraged to examine the accuracy of and validity of their negative automatic thoughts and images.
  • Psychoeducation in therapy refers to information-giving. Many patients experience psychological distress because they lack critical information. Information can be given directly in the form of handouts or reading, or indirectly in the form of information-gathering exercises.
  • Socratic dialogue is “a method of guided discovery in which the therapist asks a series of carefully sequenced questions to help define problems, assist in the identification of thoughts and beliefs, examine the meaning of events, or assess the ramifications of particular thoughts or behaviors” (Beck & Dozois, 2011). The Socratic method can help patients to reflect upon how they think and the assumptions they make, and can promote cognitive change.


  • Beck, A. T., & Dozois, D. J. (2011). Cognitive therapy: Current status and future directions. Annual Review of Medicine, 62, 397–409.
  • Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Bennett-Levy, J., Butler, G., Fennell, M., Hackmann, A., Mueller, M., & Westbrook, D. (2004). Oxford guide to behaviouralexperiments in cognitive therapy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Leahy, R. L., & Rego, S. A. (2012). Cognitive restructuring. In W. T. O’Donohue & J. E. Fisher (Eds.), Cognitive behavior therapy: Core principles for practice(pp. 113–158). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.