What is cognitive restructuring?

In this blog, we shall explore the complex world of CBT to answer the query, “What is cognitive restructuring? and delve into all the processes and techniques utilized in Cognitive Restructuring.

What is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is the systematic reconstruction of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors into adaptive thoughts and behaviors. 

What happens due to Cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring has been a part of the diverse methods and techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It proposes that changing or remodeling our thought process into a constructive and productive cognition can result in positive and ideal behavior. Often our negative thinking can result in bad moods or worrisome behavior. These bad moods can further exacerbate severe problems. 

Cognitive restructuring enables the person to remodel or reconfigure their thoughts in a way that disperses confusing thought processes and replaces them with stable, positive, and helpful thoughts and beliefs. By doing so, the individual is freed from the negative consequences occurring due to the dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs that prevent them from leading a stable and uncomplicated life.

To attain cognitive restructuring, there are some key steps to be followed. They are explained in detail further along in the article.

Worksheets or Exercises For Cognitive 


Cognitive restructuring is a very systematic and structural process. To help make the process easier following are some worksheets and exercises

CBT+ Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet

Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet – Mind Tools

Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet – Centre for Change

Cognitive Restructuring Worksheets & Handouts – Psychology

3 steps of Cognitive restructuring

Identifying Distorted Thinking

The first and the most essential step in the process of cognitive restructuring is identifying negative thought processes. The root of all our dysfunctional behaviors and actions is our negative thought process that is developed due to our distorted beliefs. By getting to the root of the problem we can eliminate it completely. So it is necessary to identify the thoughts that are counterproductive and lead to negative consequences.

To identify negative thoughts we can rely on the ABC model of CBT.

The ABC model of CBT stands for:

A: Antecedent/Activating  Event

B: Beliefs

C: Consequences or Behavior.

According to this model, our actions and behaviors are interdependent upon our thought processes. Moreover, to, our thought process can get influenced due to the environmental factor or events surrounding us. Thus, in order to bring change in our behavior, it is important to understand the effects of the events, automatic negative thoughts, and emotions on our behavior. To do this we can employ some methods and techniques such as thought monitoring and recording, observation, and careful analysis.

Disputing Negative thoughts

By negating the harmful thought processes we can eliminate and thus prevent them from causing further harm. 

To dispute the negative thoughts the person needs to ask the following questions to oneself:

  • Are my thoughts regarding the event reasonable and valid?
  • Is there any evidence or facts that support my view?
  • What alternative reasons or perspectives could be for this particular event or situation?
  • Am I overanalyzing the situation and drawing unreasonable conclusions?
  • What will be the worst-case scenario if my reasoning and thoughts about this event are correct?
  • What steps can I take to change the event?
  • Is this the worst thing that has ever happened to me, if not, then how does this compare to that?

When the person asks these questions to themselves they can achieve clarity about the event and can attend to the matter rationally. 

Replacing with Positive Thoughts

The next step is the most crucial. In this step, we replace the negative thoughts that were negated or disputed with positive and enriching thoughts. These thoughts help bring about a positive change in the person and is beneficial for obtaining adaptive behaviors. 

The following are some of the examples of positive thought processes:

I am worthy

I am capable and important

Some things are not within my control and that is fine.

I am allowed to make mistakes

I am lovable

These thoughts boost an individual’s confidence and help them improve their self-image and self-esteem which is extremely necessary for a healthy mental state and life.

Interventions of Cognitive Restructuring

While we discussed and understood the effects and importance of cognitive restructuring it is also essential to understand the methods and techniques employed for this complex process. It has been observed that cognitive distortion can be quite powerful and difficult to dispute for the person experiencing or possessing them as compared to an observer. A friend or family can easily perceive that our cognitive thoughts such as “I am useless and pathetic” are baseless and untrue. But the person who possesses these thoughts finds it hard to negate these cognitive distortions. So, to help them achieve clarity there are a few techniques and methods utilized by therapists. They are as follows:

Socratic/Open-Ended Questions

Socratic Questioning is a type of intervention technique wherein the client is encouraged by probing them with open-ended questions  Open-Ended Questions help the client not just in opening up to the therapist but it also makes them think about their problems more carefully and intrinsically. It gives them a chance to analyze the reasons or rationale behind their thoughts that induce negative feelings in them. 

Following are a few general examples of Socratic Questioning

  • What makes me think like this about this particular situation?
  • What feelings do these thoughts generate within me?
  • Do I have any evidence that supports my point of view?
  • Am I basing my thoughts based on just assumptions and misinterpreting the situation?

By asking such probing questions and preferably in a particular direction, the therapist helps the client in analyzing and deducing the situation based on facts rather than assumptions or biases.

Also, the open-ended question provides more room for the person to talk as opposed to close-ended question which just elicits yes or no answers.  

Finding Evidence

Once the client is probed with open-ended questions and made to understand the situation with an unbiased perspective they realize a lot of their assumptions were baseless and untrue. But to make them truly accept this fact it is essential to present them with concrete evidence. The client can be asked to provide evidence both in support as well as against their claim.

They could be asked to list valid, unbiased, and accurate reasons for their cognitive distortions.

Then they would be asked to provide or try to find evidence that goes against these negative thoughts. By doing do so the client is made to confront their inaccurate and biased thought process and beliefs and it also helps them to come to terms with the reality. Therefore finding contradictory evidence for their distorted thinking is beneficial in restructuring the cognition ahead in the process. 


A person feels they are very bad at socializing and their friends might be with just out of kindness

In such cases, the person might be made to list the reason as to why they think that their friends do not like them and they are bad at socializing.

Later they are made to list the number of instances when they had enjoyed being in their friends’ company and their friends had done something special for them.

By recounting instances and analyzing them objectively with the help of an uninvolved and unbiased person (in this case, the therapist), the person is made to realize how incorrect and perhaps misinterpreted their thoughts were about the situation. 


Often people tend to overthink and exaggerate things and make situations difficult for themselves. At such times it is necessary to take a step back and think rationally. It would be immensely helpful if people downplayed the situations instead of blowing them out of proportion.

For example, A man is worried to attend a party thinking it would be embarrassing and awkward to face the friends he lost touch with years ago.

In such cases, the feelings generated are based purely on assumptions the person has about the situation or event. They do not have any concrete evidence to support their claim of “the party being awkward or embarrassing”. At such times it is necessary to understand that we are ruled by our fears and not by facts or reality. The therapist may ask the client “What if” questions to make them realize this important factor.


  • What if the party is really awkward and boring, is that the worst thing to happen?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if you attend the party?
  • What would happen if this indeed turns out to be an embarrassing moment?

By decatastrophizing the event we help them understand that even their worst-case scenario or their most feared thought is not as dreary as they make it out to be. It can be easily handled and moved on from. Most of the times people are more anxious about perceived fears than actual fearful situations. It is important to make them understand that they are capable of handling these dreadful situations just like the countless times they did in their past. 


In this article, we learned the meaning of Cognitive 

Restructuring and also understanding the complex concept behind this CBT technique. We also explored the various types of interventions and techniques utilized for cognitive restructuring.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal of cognitive restructuring?

The aim or goal of cognitive restructuring is to enable people to change maladaptive and dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and habits that lead to stress, with positive and functional thought processes and behavior. 

What is the difference between cognitive restructuring and reframing?

There is a difference between reframing and cognitive restructuring. While both reframing cognitive restructuring has the common goal of changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts to modify behavior, their process and role are different. Cognitive restructuring is much more complex than reframing as it is a therapeutic process. 

Who founded cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive Behavioral Technique is developed due to the immersion of two therapies. It is founded on the principles of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Aaron Beck is the founder of Cognitive therapy and cognitive restructuring is a technique that was first developed by him. 

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. 

ReferencesCBT’s cognitive restructuring (CR) for Tackling Cognitive Distortions. PositivePsychology.com. (2021, December 13). Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/cbt-cognitive-restructuring-cognitive-distortions/

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

Cuncic, A. (2020, July 1). Change your thoughts, reduce your social anxiety. Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cognitive-restructuring-3024490

Therapist Aid. (2017, February 27). Cognitive restructuring (guide). Therapist Aid. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/cognitive-restructuring#socratic-questioning