CBT Thought Challenging (What is it exactly)

In this article, we aim to understand the complicated process of thought challenging and how CBT utilizes this method to help with various mental health disorders as well as to improve unhealthy thinking patterns

What is thought challenging?

It is an effective method utilized in CBT to help you look at things from a different perspective so that you can come to a conclusion that will help you in developing productive thinking patterns and beliefs. 

Thought Challenging in CBT

As mentioned above it is a technique utilized in CBT to help combat our thought process that impedes our growth and development by confronting it. It helps you analyze things objectively rather than letting your preconceived notions and biases affect your reasoning. Thought Challenging helps us to deal with the entangled web of thoughts in our mind and relieve the mental distress caused by those thoughts. 

Key Steps in Thought Challenging

Identifying Negative Automatic Thoughts

The first step begins with identifying any negative automatic thoughts that might cause disruptions in the client’s life. Any kind of unproductive or unhealthy thoughts must be recognized so that they can be dealt with appropriately with various techniques found in CBT. To identify negative thoughts there are various methods available one of them is monitoring and thought recording.

To identify unhealthy thoughts one could look at patterns and consequences of possessing those thoughts. We can ask ourselves questions such as, “Is this thought beneficial to me in any way?’

“What are the consequences I have to pay for by having such thoughts?”

“Will I keep getting negatively affected if I keep having these thoughts?”

Such questions will help us put thighs in perspective and deal with them responsibly and healthily.

Understanding the Logic of Thoughts

Behind every thought, there is a reason or cause that led to their development. It is necessary to understand those causes and work towards resolving them so that they do not give rise to another set of negative thoughts and beliefs. It is necessary to be cognizant of the factors that might influence or affect our reasoning and thought process. By being aware and vigilant we prevent ourselves from repeating our faulty thinking patterns and try to achieve a healthier and more productive way of thinking in the future.

Disputing Thoughts with Evidence

Once we have moved past the previous steps we need to work on collecting information that can negate our currently distressing negative automatic thoughts. These thoughts are problematic yet we believe them to true and real because of our beliefs. Therefore it is not easy to stop believing in them. In such cases, it is necessary to face them with evidence that can be used to dispute them. To help find disputing evidence we need to analyze the thoughts. Suppose we have a negative automatic thought, “No one likes me”

We can counter this NAT by asking questions like, “Are there any instances when someone complimented me?”

“Do I have no one in my life who appreciates me?”

“What would my friends and family’s reaction be to this thought?

“What have I done to make everyone, not like me?”

Through such questions, we can look and assess our situation clearly and realize that everything is in our head and not present in reality. 

How to Practice Thought Challenging?

Thought challenging is a simple technique and can be easily followed by the client if they followed a few simple rules and steps. Following are some helpful tips, facts, and guidelines that should be understood and practiced by the client in order to challenge their thoughts. 

It is a technique that might seem unnatural, unpleasant, and forceful initially therefore it takes a lot of patience, time, and effort to start feeling comfortable, and reasonable. So the client shouldn’t lose hope and patience and keep on practicing it until it loses its unpleasantness and becomes bearable.  

It is better to start of thought that might be a bit more flexible in their interpretation. By doing this it can help build confidence and also save them from getting emotionally hurt. Also, it is recommended to try this technique when people are in a neutral state of emotion so as not to get too affected by the outcome of this technique. 

It is useful to jot down and keep a record of the responses and the mental process while it is taking place. Most of the time people try to work it out mentally and fail at it miserably as they cannot keep track of their thoughts or keep having the same thought over and over in a loop making it more intense and believable. , which sometimes actually just makes the thoughts feel more intense and believable.

Another benefit of keeping records and taking notes is that you can always go back and check something you forgot or missed. Moreover, if a similar thought pops back you can refer to your notes to understand the logic behind dealing with it appropriately. 

Doing this activity with a close friend or family member can be an eye-opening experience. But it is suggested to be done with a non-judgemental and trustworthy person so that you don’t feel insecure or get hurt by doing this activity.  The intention behind involving them is to help you look at things you weren’t able to see due to self-bias and unwillingness. It is as if you are shown the mirror and the things you were running away from are still reflected in you. 

It is important to remember that when we are practicing this method we should focus on one thought at a time to reduce the chances of any errors or the possibility of getting overwhelmed. 

Take for example, “It is quite apparent that they consider me as a nuisance and are never going to invite me to the party.”  or “I will never succeed at my job because I’m not talented.”  When you are tormented by such cognitive distortions it is necessary to break down the thoughts into separate or more accurately single sentences. Working on such complex thoughts can be quite overwhelming and daunting. You can distract yourself;f with some activities or other events after you have worked on your thoughts to avoid getting stuck on them. 

Questions to be asked While attempting to challenge thoughts.

  • Do I have any evidence that goes against this thought or proves that it is not true at all times? 
  • How would I  respond differently when I am not influenced by the emotions generated due to the present circumstances?
  • Is my reasoning faulty and am I being hasty for jumping to conclusions without any concrete evidence?
  • Is there any contradictory evidence that I may have ignored or considered unimportant?
  • Am I jumping to any conclusions without thinking rationally and taking into account all the facts and information?
  • Would my loved ones have anything to say to me if they knew I was having such thoughts? Would they help me and provide evidence that would help me discard this thought?
  • What would this situation feel like if someone else was experiencing it?
  • What were the consequences when the last time I was anxious about this scenario?
  • Is this thought true or does it feel true because of my feelings?
  • Even if this thought were to come true, what would be the worst-case scenario? Are there any ways for me to deal with them?
  • Are there any alternative ways to look at this and change my point of view>
  • Are there any disadvantages to thinking in this way and if yes what would happen if I try to think more healthily and productively?
  • Even if this thought might be true to some extent does it help me positively in my life?

Am I confusing a thought with a fact?

 The fact that you believe something to be true does not necessarily mean that it is. Would your thought be accepted as correct by other people? Would it stand up in court, or be dismissed as circumstantial? What objective evidence do you have to back it up and contradict it? Automatic thought When I met Peter in the street today, he didn’t smile at me. I must have done something to offend him. Possible answer It’s true that he didn’t smile at me but I have no reason to believe he’s offended with me. It probably had nothing at all to do with me – maybe he just had something on his mind.


In this blog, we focused on various types of ways used in CBT to challenge thoughts and also learned the principles and processes behind the thought challenging method. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you challenge thought distortions?

Challenging negative thoughts requires skills and the use of techniques that are taught in CBT. There are also some guidelines and principles that if followed meticulously help us achieve great results. We need to accept our accomplishments and adopt a positive outlook towards life. By taking care of all these things we can challenge even the most deeply rooted cognitive distortions.

What are the problems with CBT?

Disadvantages of CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a systematic and structured therapeutic process and hence requires employing complex thought processes and techniques. This might not be suitable for people who have complex mental health needs or learning or intellectual disabilities. Also as CBT insists on confronting our fears and anxieties to resolve them it can be emotionally daunting during the initial stages. 

How does CBT change the brain?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps in reconstructing the mental processes in the brain by establishing new neural pathways via neutral thinking. Neural pathways are formed over time when individuals reinforce a certain thought by repeating it in their minds. By changing such thoughts we can change and modify the neural pathways.  

What part of the brain does CBT target?

There were various parts or sections in our brain that govern different mental faculties. When we are overwhelmed or let our emotions take control at that time the emotional part of the brain is controlling our behavior and the muscle in that part of the brain becomes stronger. But when we late the logical side of our brain take over then the muscle in that section becomes stronger. Therefore CBT helps us in creating neural pathways and reinforcing the areas in our brain that help us in making informed and healthy decisions in life. 

Does CBT focus on the past?

No CBT does not delve into the past. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a problem-oriented therapeutic approach. It focuses on current problems and finding solutions for them. Unlike psychoanalysis, for example, it does not deal primarily with the past.


Thought challenging for negative thinking. Inner Melbourne Psychology. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.innermelbpsychology.com.au/thought-challenging/