5 Cognitive Restructuring Techniques

In this blog, we will go through the techniques of cognitive restructuring and try to understand the process of cognitive structuring by examining each of these techniques

What are the techniques used in cognitive restructuring?

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Following are some techniques utilized in  cognitive restructuring

  • Self‐monitoring
  • Questioning assumptions
  • Gathering evidence
  • Doing a cost-benefit analysis
  • Finding alternatives

What is Cognitive Restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is one of the most effective techniques of psychotherapy. The practice of cognitive restructuring is to change the way people think about themselves, the world, and their problems. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to help people become more aware of the thoughts, beliefs, and biases that can keep them trapped in unhealthy or unhelpful thinking and behavior. By changing the way people think, cognitive restructuring is intended to help people better understand themselves and their world, which can, in turn, lead to more effective coping and problem-solving. The cognitive restructuring techniques used in psychoanalysis can be applied in counseling to treat a wide range of emotional difficulties.  Cognitive restructuring is considered one of the most essential techniques in cognitive therapy because it is the core of the therapy.

Techniques For Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is employed to redesign and recorrect faulty thought patterns into productive and helpful patterns by replacing them with adaptive ideas and beliefs. These ideas, thoughts, and beliefs are positive in nature and thus assist in overhauling the previously negative mindset. 

Even though cognitive restructuring can be utilized by anyone it is better used under the guidance of a professional. A mental health professional would be more skilled and adept at administering this technique and ensuring that no harm comes to the client during the process. 

Cognitive restructuring employs various methods and techniques and some of them are as follows:

Self monitoring

Even before you can deal with and resolve an issue it first needs to be identified. Similarly, before a cumbersome thought pattern can be eliminated it first needs to be recognized. Therefore the successful implementation o cognitive restructuring is dependent upon the client’s ability to identify thoughts that generate negative feelings within them to illogical replace them with positive thoughts. 

Self-monitoring assists in this task by providing the required date needed to perform restructuring. Self-monitoring consists of noticing when sudden negative thoughts pop up and also where it is more likely to arise. This can help in being prepared for the unpleasant consequences of the thoughts beforehand and also alleviating the intensity and influence of those thoughts. 

Let us understand it with the help of an example. Suppose a student has anxiety issues and has a pattern of catastrophizing. Particularly when dealing with stage or public speaking. They may have thoughts like

  • I am going to do very badly at this presentation 
  • I won’t be able to perform in front o everybody and they will laugh at me
  • My teammates are going to be disappointed with my performance and call me a failure. 
  • I can never do as well as others 

One can notice the lack of confidence and vulnerability in these thoughts. By recognizing one’s vulnerability and weaknesses we can easily identify the corresponding negative thoughts and deal with them efficiently. 

There are a few effective methods for self-monitoring. One of them is journaling. Journaling or recording the thoughts helps in keeping track of the thought patterns and also the changes that occur in them over time during different situations. 

Questioning your assumptions

The cognitive restructuring also focuses on questioning previously held assumptions that might be causing obstacles and difficulties in a person’s life.

To achieve this goal a therapist might make use of Socratic Questioning. Socratic Questioning enables us to identify the negative influence of maladaptive thoughts on our behavior and also reveals its illogical and irrational nature. 

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How do you know that your thoughts are true? In a Socratic questioning, a person is asked a question about his/her thoughts. You can use Socratic questioning to see whether or not your thoughts are true.  The goal of the Socratic questioning is to help the patient identify his maladaptive thoughts which are not true.

Examples of Socratic Questions:

  • Are my thoughts emotional or fact-based?
  • Is there any evidence that proves the validity and accuracy of my thoughts?
  • What is the evidence that is against the favor of my automatic thoughts?
  • Can this belief be tested?
  • What is the worst-case scenario? How can it affect me and what could be my response towards it?
  • Is there any other way to look at the situation and interpret it differently? 
  • Is the situation as bad as I am making it to be or is there more to the situation that I cannot see?

The human mind is an amazing thing. It’s capable of so much and can help us achieve so much. But sometimes our minds can also cause us problems. One of how the mind can cause us problems is by causing us to catastrophize.

When you think about the future, you probably imagine it as a series of possibilities. You might think about a vacation, for instance, and how you’ll have fun exploring a new place. But for some people, the future isn’t so rosy. Instead of imagining a series of possibilities, they start to catastrophize or think about only the negative possibilities.

Catastrophizing is the habit of automatically assuming the worst possible outcome in a given situation. It’s usually caused by anxiety and can be triggered by a wide variety of circumstances. For example, if your car makes a strange noise, you may immediately assume that you’re going to need a costly repair. Or if you’re late for a meeting, you might assume that you’re going to get fired.

To tackle the cognitive distortion called catastrophizing we can use Socratic questioning and question our negative assumptions that lead to unhelpful thoughts and behavior. If something goes wrong, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think the worst. But when you’re questioning your assumptions, you have the opportunity to consider new possibilities that aren’t as drastic as the catastrophic ones you may fear.

 This can help you cope with a situation more effectively. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a work deadline and start catastrophizing, you may imagine the worst outcome: you’re fired from your job, you don’t graduate on time, your family is in financial ruin.

Gathering evidence

Collecting proof or evidence to dispute illogical thoughts is one of the major elements of cognitive restructuring. This can be done by keeping track of all the events and records that triggered a response within you. It also involves stacking evidence in favor as well as against your automatic thoughts or assumptions and beliefs. It is apparent that distortions occurring in our cognitive space are not just irrational but also deeply rooted within our psyche. Therefore getting rid of them is very tough and needs concrete evidence to dispute them. 

Performing a cost-benefit analysis

This element is utilized to gauge the pros and cons or benefits and loss of an automatic thought or distorted thought pattern. To determine its value a person could ask the following questions: 

  • What do you obtain by underestimating or belittling yourself? 
  • What are the consequences of this thought pattern on your emotional well-being?
  • What are the effects of these thoughts on you in the long term?
  • Does this distorted thinking pattern have any impact on the people surrounding you? 
  • Is your performance ability or productivity affected in any way due to this thought? 

By arranging the benefits and losses next to each other we can provide a chance to the observer to analyze the situation and determine how much they are getting affected by particular thought or belief. 

Generating alternatives 

Cognitive restructuring is used to change the way a person thinks and feels about a situation. It’s focused on changing irrational thoughts into more rational ones and on replacing destructive feelings with more positive ones. Cognitive therapy is sometimes called “thought control” therapy because it involves taking control of one’s thoughts. The therapist helps the patient come up with alternative explanations for the things that happen to them, and this helps them feel better.

Let us take an example to understand this better. If you are cooking for the first time and the food you cooked tastes bad that doesn’t mean you are a bad cook. It is your first attempt and maybe you need a few more attempts to truly master the art of cooking and also to judge whether you are truly bad at cooking. Instead of generalizing that you cannot cook well, you could look for alternative ways to look at things. You could think that the dish may have turned out bad this time due to my inexperience but perhaps with practice, I can do better.

This method also consists of utilizing positive affirmations to dislodge maladaptive thoughts so that they can be replaced with productive and positive thoughts.  

Conclusion

In this blog, we learned about the various techniques utilized in cognitive restructuring and how they help in eliminating cognitive distortions and promoting positive thought processes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cognitive restructuring evidence-based?

Yes, cognitive restructuring is evidence-based and various studies and researches support this claim.  Through extensive research and studies which focused on examining the efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it was found that this treatment can be applied to a wide range of psychological problems and behavioral disorders. It is structured, systematic, and highly applicable for varied issues. Therefore many researchers and psychologists opt for this technique to achieve behavioral modification by changing thought processes. 

How effective is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is utilized for the treatment of almost all the major psychological disorders, predominantly anxiety, mood, personality disorders, and depression. It has been proved in treating behavioral issues such as substance abuse or anger issues as well. 

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.

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. 

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

References

Nick et al. (2022, January 10). The Complete Guide to Cognitive Restructuring. Nick Wignall. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://nickwignall.com/cognitive-restructuring/

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

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