How to Develop Your Cognitive Restructuring Skills

Cognitive restructuring skills involve being able to identify irrational, unhelpful thoughts and then reframe them in a more rational, helpful way.

It’s about realising that thoughts are not facts, and we have the power to choose how we respond to them.

“Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor E. Frankl

Cognitive restructuring skills training is at the heart of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the main talking therapy treatment in the UK.

Being able to notice and reframe cognitive distortions is helpful in a variety of distressing situations:

  • When you're feeling anxious
  • When you're experiencing low mood
  • If you're feeling angry
  • If a racing mind is preventing you from falling asleep
  • If you're feeling paranoid
  • If you're having a panic attack
  • If you're experiencing intrusive thoughts or disturbing mental images

7 Common Types of Cognitive Distortions

1. Should/Must Statements

Example
I should be liked by everyone
Cognitive Restructure
I love and accept myself – I let go of the need for other people's approval

2. Black-and-White Thinking

Example
People are good/bad, immoral/moral, pleasant/rude
Cognitive Restructure
People are a complex mixture of different characteristics, everything exists on a spectrum

3. Catastrophising

Example
I must have someone else to depend on or love, or else my life will fall apart
Cognitive Restructure
Relying too much on others can lead to dependent behaviour. I'll learn to trust my self-sufficiency

4. Rumination

Example
It was so awful when…
I can't believe she did that, it made me feel…
Why would she do that to me?
What if that's the reason for..?
Cognitive Restructure
Rumination only rewires my brain for low mood and irritability – it's not worth it. I'll let the past refine me, not define me. It's better to live in the present and focus on what I can control now

5. Emotional Reasoning

Example
I feel so worthless. I am worthless
Cognitive Restructure
My emotions do not dictate reality nor my behaviour. Just because I feel worthless, it doesn't mean I am. Thoughts aren't facts

6. Filtering out the Positive

Example
I've tried a few different things and nothing has worked. It's hopeless. I might as well give up
Cognitive Restructure
I did feel quite a bit better when I started meditating in the morning for a while. I'll need to build up a few new habits before I notice a big difference. It is possible to rewire my brain and body. My past influences my present, but I have the power to shape my future

7. Personalising

Example
I made such a stupid mistake today. I'm an idiot
Cognitive Restructure
Everyone makes mistakes. If I was talking to a friend in this situation, I'd tell them to be kind to themselves
 
Mental Wellbeing Toolkit Planner

Develop Your Cognitive Restructuring Skills with The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit Planner

  • Become familiar with 11 types of cognitive distortions
  • Learn the powerful CBT-based BOP Method for reducing unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Use The Worry Tree exercise to reduce worry and rumination
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