The cbt cycle (explained)

This blog will help us understand the concept CBT cycle and what it entails. We will also explore the various attributes of this cycle and how this cycle helps in CBT. 

What is a CBT cycle?

The cbt cycle (explained)

CBT cycle depicts the flow of events and the cognitive process that takes place in our minds once a triggering situation occurs. It accurately showcases how the loop keeps on repeating unless appropriate action is taken to break the cycle.

CBT and the Cycle

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people to identify, understand, challenge and then subsequently replace maladaptive thoughts that bring about adverse changes in their behavior. It is a practical, problem-oriented, and systematic approach that is rooted in the present. Therefore the problem can be dealt with realistically. To bring about change in our behaviors and to resolve the maladaptive behaviors it is necessary to break the cycle. Fortunately, the cycle can be broken if changes are made in any one of the areas or steps of the cycle. Once the cycle is broken then it becomes easier to bring about positive change in the behavior and emotional responses.

CBT follows a systematic pattern and approach. One of the key steps in CBT is identifying the types of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that cause problems in your life. 

Once we get stuck in this cycle of dysfunctional behavior it becomes very difficult to break free from it. Therefore therapists often refer to these cycles as maintaining processes. In the first session of CBT, the therapist will aim to identify these cycles of dysfunctional behavior so that necessary interventions can be carried out.

Let’s look at the most common kinds of ‘maintaining processes’ that CBT counseling identifies.

CBT Model 

Cbt consists of three major components. These components determine the way we deal or react in a situation. These components are thoughts, feelings/emotions, and behaviors. 


Thoughts or our thinking process play a huge role in influencing our outlook towards a particular situation. We utilize our thoughts to interpret or make sense of the situation and if our thoughts are negative or unhealthy then it will definitely have an adverse effect on the rest of the components as all the components are interconnected. These thoughts can occur in various forms. They could be verbal, or nonverbal. They could be images or even occur in words or sentences. There is no restriction or limitation on the form of thoughts and there are various ways for them to be manifested.  


It is important o note that the term feelings here is not limited t emotions but it also included the physiological reaction that occurs in our body due to a triggering emotion. For example, the quickening of the heartbeat when we are anxious or the feeling of blood rushing to our face when we are overcome with anger. Our physiological reactions are triggered when we experience an arousing event and these reactions can also influence our behavior and thought processes. It can be also said that feelings (i.e. physiological reaction) are the physical manifestation of emotions. 


Behaviors can be called actions that we perform. But behaviors can also include things we chose not to do. Suppose, for example, we are overcome with overwhelming anxiety and therefore decide to opt-out of an elocution competition due to our anxiety. Now even if in this situation we displayed avoidance of an undesirable event t is still considered as a dysfunctional behavior. If we had been confident about the situation, we might have chosen to go along with the event. Even then it would be considered as a type of behavior. 

The 7 Most Common Dysfunctional Behaviour Loops

1. Safety Behaviours

When we are afraid to step out of our comfort zone and want to protect ourselves from facing negative and fear-inducing situations we often rely on Safety behaviors. They are often related to our anxiety. It is basically sticking to what is safe and familiar and avoiding any foreign or unfamiliar situation that is not previously tested or experienced. For instance, a person with social anxiety would display safety behavior if they are being overly agreeable to avoid confrontation, speaking in a low voice, isolating oneself from others, only answering when asked or necessary, etc.  

While these behaviors may feel safe and secure to the person but they are in fact not good for a person’s emotional and mental well-being. These behaviors prevent the client from resolving their issues and thus end up prolonging the anxiety as it is never treated. 

2. Escape/Avoidance

Running away from problems is a common behavior when confronted with unpleasant situations or events. Therefore people who have phobias tend to avoid being in situations wherein they might have to face their fears. Or they could display other behaviors through which they could escape from engaging or interacting with their fears. Such as avoiding eye contact, secluding oneself from others, or purposely being succinct in their responses so that no one attempts to have a conversation.  Just like safe behaviors, this dysfunctional way of tackling anxiety results in the worsening of the situation over time as the root cause of the problem is left untreated. This method also prevents the person from growing their potential and building confidence as they always run away from situations that might help experience something different and helpful.  

3. Reduction in Activity

Reduction in Activity is one of the most common dysfunctional behaviors or as the therapists call it maintaining process in depression. Lack of physical energy, vigor, low mood, and negative thoughts are some of the symptoms of depression. This makes the person lose interest in doing any kind of activities that previously made them happy. Even doing the bare minimum feels like a task to them and just cannot muster enough strength or energy to engage in activities.  Unfortunately, this only makes the situation worse as a person can lose hope and get demoralized over time if this way of living continues. We need to feel a sense of achievement and pleasure in life and it keeps us motivated to keep going. If we lose our motivation or the factors that motivate us to go it can make our life miserable. We might end up disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world and creating a huge void in our life. We can also lose the support of our friends and family due to this behavior and this negative cycle of behavior will keep on repeating making things even worse.  

 4. Catastrophic Misinterpretation

Catastrophic misinterpretation is the wrongful assumptions and interpretation of bodily sensations due to anxiety or fear. In these cases, people misinterpret normal bodily reactions as something much worse due to their fear and anxiety or disorders such as OCD or paranoia. So common symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea which are also symptoms of anxiety can be misconstrued as symptoms of stroke, heart attacks, or even bouts of insanity. Such types of behavior loops only end spiking the anxiety levels even further and making the person suffer for no reason at all.  

5. Scanning/Hyper-vigilance

Another commonly found behavioral loop for anxiety is called scanning or hyper-vigilance. This kind of maintaining process is mostly seen in people suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. If you are worried about developing a serious illness then you might always scan your health results or be hyper-vigilant for any symptoms that might confirm your beliefs.  In people with PTSD, become vigilant about their surroundings and always lookout for signs that might indicate the occurrence of a threatful situation. You become overly sensitive to your surroundings and are constantly engaged in this loop of scanning and confirming your suspicions   

6. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

When you wrongly assume that everyone else has a negative attitude towards you then you end up confirming those assumptions because of your behavior. These are called self-fulfilling prophecies. If we think something bad is going to happen and constantly focus on the negatives then ultimately we are led to a negative consequence which ends up confirming our initial assumption. Once the assumption is confirmed, our resolve about those beliefs is strengthened and we end up believing in those things again. This we end up repeating the whole process.  

7. Perfectionism

The perfectionism loop is commonly found in people suffering from low self-esteem and confidence. They set high standards for themselves which are impossible to achieve. They measure their capability based on these standards and when they are unable to meet those standards they end up feeling worthless and imperfect. The way to break this vicious cycle is to become realistic with our goals and ambitions and break them down into small goals that are reasonable and attainable. Once these goals are achieved then our sense of achievement helps us in regaining our confidence and self-esteem. 


With the help of this blog, we learned about the various aspects of the cycle and how it contributes to developing dysfunctional loops or maintaining processes. 

Frequently asked Questions

What does CBT focus on?

 CBT focuses on following a  problem-oriented approach while keeping the present circumstances in mind. CBT differs from other approaches as it chooses to concentrate on the present situation and problems arising due to it instead of digging up the past.  

What are the 3 pillars of CBT?

The CBT stands on three important pillars. They are 

  • identification
  • Recognition
  • management.

What are the two critical components of CBT?

CBT proposes that our behavior and emotions are heavily influenced by our cognitive processes. Hence it has two critical components related to the cognitive processes. They are core beliefs and automatic thoughts.   

How is CBT different from other therapies?

Cbt is vastly different from some of the other psychotherapies. It is because CBT focuses and works on resolving the present conditions and problems arising due to them. According to CBT the way we perceive an event and interpret it determines the outcome and direction of the consequences arising out of it. 

Is CBT a directive approach?

Yes, CBT is a directive approach. It is a problem-oriented, detailed and systematic approach. CBt consists of various tasks and assignments that the therapist guides the client to complete. These tasks and activities help the client in achieving behavioral modification and also make them capable to handle problematic situations in real life on their own. CBT is also often described as a directive approach. The therapist guides the client to complete specific behavioral and cognitive tasks. Furthermore, compared with other therapeutic models, CBT places significantly more focus on psycho-education and homework.


The CBT model of emotions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

CBT. Skyland Trail. (2020, January 22). Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

Cognitive behaviour therapy. – (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2022, from 

How to stop the vicious cycle – CBT and dysfunctional behaviour. Harley Therapy™ Blog. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from