5 Cognitive restructuring steps

In this article, we will try to understand the steps undertaken in the process of cognitive restructuring and also examine the various ways that cognitive restructuring is utilized to treat mental health disorders 

What are the steps of cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is a process in CBT that helps in changing the negative thought process of an individual to bring about positive and helpful changes in their behavior. To obtain that positive change following steps are followed. 

  • Understanding your negative thought process 
  • Evaluation of the maladaptive thoughts
  • Negating the thoughts through rationalization
  • Replacing them adaptive thought process

How does cognitive restructuring work?

Cognitive restructuring forms an integral part of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is an approach that has been proven to help treat various mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

It is a combined effort on both the client and therapist’s part and therefore needs active participation from both sides. They work together to find out negative thoughts that negatively influence the client’s behavior and generate problems in their life. 

But due to biases and rigid belief systems, it can be difficult to recognize and acknowledge having negative thought patterns. Therefore it is imperative to take the help of a professional ( mental health professionals) to help guide them through the process of cognitive restructuring

Just like the name insinuates cognitive structuring is the remodeling of our cognitive process. It helps in demolishing any unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with adaptive and productive thought patterns. 

Cognitive restructuring deals with various cognitive distortions such as black and white thinking, overgeneralization, personalization, etc. by reframing them in such a way that they prove to be a positive influence on our behavior.

According to the theory of cognitive-behavioral therapy our actions, emotions, feelings, and thoughts are interconnected and influence each other. Therefore to change our behavior, we need to start working on our thoughts. 

Cognitive restructuring techniques


Even before you can attempt to change your thought process you first need to identify faulty thinking. Therefore in such situations, the self-monitoring technique helps us in singling out the unproductive and unhealthy way of thinking that we may have normalized and accepted as true. If we know about the existence of an issue then its power to cause trouble decreases and we get the opportunity to find solutions to combat that issue. The same principle is applied here. Journaling and recording thoughts help in keeping track of the negative thoughts and are therefore one of the best self-monitoring tools that can be utilized by the clients. 

Questioning your assumptions

Another useful technique of Cognitive restructuring is questioning our assumptions and thoughts. The thoughts that impede our lifestyle and get in the way of our growth and development need to be questioned and examined.   To help achieve this task the therapist can provide you with some helpful materials and teach you some methods  

Socratic questioning is one of the best ways to examine and question our assumptions. This method helps us to recognize and understand how our automatic thoughts can be biased, irrational, and illogical.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • Is this thought generated due to my emotions or is it based on facts?
  • Is this thought accurate and if yes what is the evidence that supports this thought?
  • What evidence goes against this thought and proves it to be inaccurate?
  • Is there a way to examine this belief?
  • What is the worst outcome for this situation and how would I respond to that?
  • Is there an alternative way to look at the situation?
  • Is this a right or wrong situation or is there more to it than what can be seen?

This technique is especially useful for people who are prone to catastrophizing. In catastrophizing people tend to assume the worst in every situation. Through this method, you can question the validity of your thought process and ask yourself why you believe that the worst possible outcome will occur. 

Gathering evidence

Collecting evidence is a very crucial aspect of cognitive restructuring. Gathering evidence is not just limited to collecting information that either supports or is against your thought process. It also includes recording data about situations that might trigger unpleasant emotions or responses. Or the circumstances during that event that might have led to that response. It is collecting and gathering facts that can aid you in challenging your belief system and help you understand the causes behind those beliefs. 

Performing a cost-benefit analysis

In this process or technique, you need to weigh the world and cons of possessing cognitive distortions. You may ask yourself the following questions to help you understand the benefits and losses you might incur from the negative thoughts. 

What do you get from thinking about yourself so deprecatingly? 

Does this thought have any effect on your emotions?

Does this thought help benefit you in your life?

Do these beliefs and thought patterns affect the people around you?

By being able to see the advantages and disadvantages incurred by the thoughts we can make accurate judgments conclude on whether it is beneficial for us to retain such thoughts. 

Using this strategy, you would consider the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining a certain cognitive distortion.

You could ask yourself:

  • What do you get out of calling yourself a complete idiot, for example?
  • What does this thought pattern cost you emotionally and practically speaking?
  • What are the long-term effects?
  • How does this thought pattern affect the people around you?
  • How does it advance or limit your job performance?

Seeing the pros and cons side by side can help you decide whether it’s worth changing the pattern.

Generating alternatives 

Cognitive restructuring is based on altering negative thinking patterns into positive and productive thinking patterns. Therefore it is essential to create alternative options for the cognitive distortions.  These thoughts need to be helpful, productive as well as rational. It would do more harm than good if the alternative options are impractical and irrational. So to help the client it is necessary to come up with alternative thinking patterns that are rooted in reality and can be easily believed as well as adopted by the client. 

4 Steps of Cognitive Restructuring

In Cognitive Restructuring, there are four steps to be followed. The steps are as follows. 

Understanding your negative thought process

Cognitive restructuring begins with being conscious of your thinking patterns. In this step, there is no room for judgments or censure towards negative thoughts. First, you need to be aware of what those thoughts are and also identify the problematic way of thinking that you might be prone to.  Because unless we are aware of our problems and issues we cannot change them. To understand your problematic thought process you could monitor your automatic thoughts and make a list for about a week.  

Evaluation of the maladaptive thoughts

The next step focuses on the evaluation of these thoughts. Once you have recognized and made a list of all the negative automatic thoughts you separate the irrational thoughts from the rational ones. It is the right opportunity to increase the number of rational thoughts.    

For example, if you think that, “I will never be able to win that prize” this thought can be considered as unproductive, maladaptive, and negative because you cannot foresee the future thus cannot know for sure whether you will win the prize or not.

Step 2 establishes that this is a thought worth changing.

Negating the thoughts through rationalization

Once the list of negative thoughts has been made and all the possible automatic thoughts have been identified we move on to the phase of checking the validity of these thoughts.  We need to verify and examine the reasoning behind these thoughts. We can ask ourselves three important questions, 

“Is it really true?”

“If yes, why is it true?”

“Is it always true if not then how often is it true?”

At this stage, we realize that though we may believe that there is concrete evidence and logic behind our thinking patterns after analyzing it we come to the conclusion that it may have all been untrue.

4. Replacing them with the adaptive thought process

The last step includes replacing those faulty and maladaptive thought patterns with productive and healthy patterns. Therefore we need to generate alternative thoughts that can be used to replace them.Now we need to make sure that these alternative replacements are rational and illogical and believable. If we do not ensure these conditions then we might end up replacing the previous faulty thoughts with another set of illogical and unachievable thoughts. This may just end up causing more harm to the client. To be able to create the replacements we need self-awareness and reflections and also adopt a rational way of looking at things. Therefore instead of thinking, “My friend has recently become distant and maybe she doesn’t like me anymore”, we could think that, “I don’t know what she is  thinking and maybe she is busy with her life and so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”

Thus by looking at things rationally and logically we can reduce a lot of distressing thoughts.


This article helped us understand the complex structure and the steps involved in cognitive restructuring that help individuals change their way of thinking and formulating thoughts. 

Frequently asked Questions

How do you change cognitive thinking?

There are six  Ways to Change Your Thinking

  • Try and practice to notice the cognitive distortions occurring in your mind. To decrease complications only focus on one .one type of cognitive distortion one at a time.
  • Evaluate and analyze the accuracy of the thought
  • Put the thought to test 
  • Check the evidence in favor as well as against the thought 
  • Practice Mindfulness meditation.
  • Adopt Self-compassion.

Is cognitive restructuring part of CBT?

Yes, cognitive restructuring is a part of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is a core component of CBT and helps in remodeling the faulty thinking patterns into productive and helpful patterns that aid in influencing the behavior positively. It is a collaborative process and hence needs active participation from the client to obtain optimum results. 

How effective is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring has been touted as one of the most effective treatment techniques for psychological disorders. Behavioral and psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, etc, have been greatly benefited by this technique. 

What is the difference between cognitive restructuring and reframing?

Reframing and restructuring are similar yet at the same time distinct processes. Reframing is changing a person’s mindset regardless of whether it is a positive or negative change. But restructuring is the complex process of completely overhauling the negative thoughts and ideations to be replaced by healthy and practical thoughts that bring about desirable effects on their behavior. 

What is the fallacy of fairness?

The fallacy of fairness arises when people start looking at things in black and white terms. It is important to understand that some things fall in the grey zone as well and need to be looked at or handled differently. But when an individual judges things based on these seemingly fair terms then it gives rise to the fallacy of fairness. Therefore it is important to remember that fairness is not objective but subjective


Stanborough, R. J. (2020, February 4). Cognitive restructuring: Techniques and examples. Healthline. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-restructuring#drawbacks 

Cognitive restructuring. Mental Help Cognitive Restructuring Comments. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/stress/cognitive-restructuring/