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How does cognitive restructuring work? The Ultimate Guide

therapist makes notes

Key Takeaways:

  • Cognitive restructuring refers to deliberately identifying and changing unhealthy thought patterns.
  • Under the guidance of a licensed therapist, cognitive restructuring is central to patient improvement under CBT.
  • Patients can learn to perform some cognitive restructuring themselves between therapy sessions, or indeed after a course of therapy.

Cognitive restructuring: a complicated-sounding term for something that, at least at its core, is very simple.

In essence, cognitive restructuring refers to evidence-based techniques used by licensed therapists to turn your incorrect, unhelpful thoughts into good and productive ones.

Let's explore how it works.

Info on Cognitive Restructuring on This Page:

When is cognitive restructuring used?

How does cognitive restructuring work?

After Therapy: How Cognitive Restructuring Sticks

Cognitive Restructuring Therapy in Austin

When is cognitive restructuring used?

Usually, cognitive restructuring is only part of a broader course of therapy.

Used in cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as offshoots like DBT and TF-CBT, cognitive restructuring is the process that your therapist will use to change unhealthy and logically flawed thinking into healthier thinking.

It's used often for patients with cognitive distortions.

A cognitive distortion is a thought process that is incorrect, such as assuming the worst case scenario is inevitable or "mind reading" (assuming that you know what someone else is thinking).

Because a cognitive distortion is usually not something patients can identify and change themselves, a therapist uses the process of cognitive restructuring to change it for them.

Definition Template (1)

How does cognitive restructuring work?

The term "cognitive restructuring" may sound like some sort of mad scientist's dream - reconnecting synapses under the dim light of a sinister lab - but in reality it's a very simple process.

Essentially, your therapist will work with you to identify your cognitive distortions, and then walk you through logically why they are, in fact, distortions.

For example, let's say you have anxiety and, as such, tend to catastrophize. This means that, regardless of what true logic might say, you assume that the worst possible outcome is going to invariably become real.

Your therapist may walk you through your thought process in regards to a specific concern:

1.) I need to drive to the store.

2.) People die in car accidents all the time.

3.) Therefore, I will die in a car accident if I drive.

Your therapist might then walk you through a healthier and more correct train of thought, such as:

1.) I need to drive to the store.

2.) People die in car accidents all the time.

3.) However, far more drivers don't die in car accidents than do.

4.) Additionally, a great many car accident fatalities are avoidable by driving sober, being aware of one's surroundings, and wearing a seat belt.

5.) Therefore, I can drive to the store knowing that, most likely, I'll be fine.

This example is somewhat oversimplified - most cognitive restructuring techniques require a bit more time and explanation than that - but overall, that's how it works. No electrodes or mysterious beakers—just a trusted therapist and some discussion.

After Therapy: How Cognitive Restructuring Sticks

Even though many of them might like to, therapists can't be around to help one patient all the time. Additionally, CBT and other related therapies are meant to be brief, consisting of only 12 to 15 sessions.

After this number of sessions, most patients are able to go off on their own with a better understanding of their mental health and an overall reduction in symptoms (though it is totally fine to need more sessions).

During the course of therapy, most patients will learn some form of the three C's of cognitive restructuring: catch it, check it, and change it.

"Catch it" means being aware of when you may be having a cognitive distortion.

"Check it" means being able to verify whether or not a thought is illogical, incorrect, and unhealthy.

"Change it" means being able to restructure the thought in real-time so that it does not cause you more distress.

The three C's can take a lot of practice to master - but that's what your therapist is for. They are there to guide you through the skills you'll need to eventually leave therapy a healthier person.

Cognitive Restructuring Therapy in Austin

If you're interested in cognitive restructuring, start by looking for cognitive behavioral therapy. This is the main form of therapy in which cognitive restructuring is used.

If this is your first time going to therapy, CBT is also likely to be the form of therapy you start with. It's been well-researched and has been shown to be effective in most cases.

If, down the line, CBT doesn't appear to be helping, there are other forms of CBT, and indeed of therapy in general, that are designed to help different kinds of thinkers. For example, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is designed for those who experience emotions more strongly than others.

There are so many forms of therapy, and so many great therapists out there, that it can be hard to find the right one.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, we pride ourselves on only offering the best psychological services possible. Every member of our staff is a doctoral-level psychologist, and is on hand to deliver premium CBT therapy to members of the Austin community.

Give us a call to get matched with the right therapist for you, or book an appointment online! Feeling better may be closer than you think!

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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