What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in San Antonio (CBT)
Picture of Sam Grimaldo, LMFT, LPC

Sam Grimaldo, LMFT, LPC

Sam is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselor in San Antonio. He specializes in working with couples to recover from disconnection caused by trauma or addiction.

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Do you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts and emotions? Do these thoughts and emotions often lead to unwanted behaviors? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) might be the right therapy approach for you. CBT is a structured form of therapy that focuses on changing negative or harmful thought patterns and behaviors. It is based on the idea that how we think affects how we feel and behave.

In this blog post, we will dive deeper into the concept of CBT, how it works, and how it can benefit you.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of talk therapy that is used to treat a variety of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a highly structured and goal-oriented therapy, which makes it an attractive option for people who want a clear roadmap for their therapy journey. CBT is often a short-term therapy, which means that it is not long-term and doesn’t require a significant time commitment. Additionally, clients learn valuable coping mechanisms that they can continue to use throughout their lives.

 What are the benefits of CBT?

CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for many mental health disorders. It helps people become more aware of their thoughts and how they affect their emotions and behaviors. By challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with more realistic ones, CBT can improve a person’s self-esteem, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and increase overall life satisfaction. It also teaches valuable skills that can be used long after therapy has ended.

How does CBT work?

CBT is a collaborative process between the therapist and client. The therapist helps the client identify negative thoughts and behaviors and then teaches techniques to challenge and reframe them. CBT aims to improve a person’s emotional regulation and coping mechanisms. The therapist may use cognitive restructuring, behavioral activation, and exposure therapy techniques to help the client replace negative thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones. With practice, these new coping mechanisms become second nature to the client, leading to lasting change. CBT is not just about affirmations and postive thinking. CBT helps people view negative data in their life more realistically and adaptively. The therapy also helps to identify and process positive data in a straightforward way.

In CBT, automatic thoughts and underlying assumptions are key concepts.

Automatic Thoughts:

These are spontaneous, often quick thoughts that occur throughout the day in response to specific situations. They can be positive or negative and can greatly impact one’s emotional state. For individuals struggling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, these thoughts are often negative and irrational. For example, if someone doesn’t respond to your text message quickly, an automatic thought might be “They must be mad at me” or “They don’t care about me.” In CBT, individuals learn to identify, challenge, and replace these automatic negative thoughts with more accurate and beneficial ones.

Underlying Assumptions:

These are also known as intermediate beliefs and they are the rules, maxims, attitudes, and expectations that guide our responses to situations. These beliefs are often formed in childhood and can be influenced by various factors such as upbringing, culture, and past experiences. They are broader than automatic thoughts and often serve as a bridge between core beliefs (deeply held beliefs about oneself and the world) and automatic thoughts. An example of an underlying assumption might be “If I don’t perform perfectly, people will not love me.” In CBT, individuals learn to identify these assumptions and examine whether they are helpful or unhelpful in their lives.

The goal of CBT is to help individuals recognize and change these negative automatic thoughts and unhelpful underlying assumptions, in order to improve their emotional wellbeing and behavior.

What can you expect during CBT sessions?

During CBT sessions, you will work with a therapist to identify negative thoughts and behaviors. The therapist will work with you to change these negative patterns and replace them with more adaptive ones. They may also provide homework assignments to help you practice techniques and strategies outside of the therapy session. CBT involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:

  • Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.
  • Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
  • Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities


CBT also involves efforts to change behavioral patterns. These strategies might include:

  • Facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them.
  • Using role playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others.
  • Learning to calm one’s mind and relax one’s body.

What are Cognitive Distortions in CBT?

CBT is like a wise, compassionate friend who helps us understand how our thoughts influence our feelings and behaviors. It’s a journey of self-discovery, where we learn to identify and challenge the cognitive distortions that cloud our mental horizon.

But what exactly are these cognitive distortions? They are misguided thought patterns that often lead to emotional turmoil. Imagine them as filters that color your reality, twisting it into something more ominous or less hopeful than it actually is.

Do you find yourself constantly fretting over worst-case scenarios? Do you take things too personally or struggle with perfectionism? These are some of the most common ways of thinking that can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. The good news is that with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), you can learn to recognize and challenge these faulty thinking patterns.

10 Cognitive Distortions to be Aware of

There are ten common cognitive distortions that CBT can help us address:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: This is the tendency to see things in black or white, with no shades of gray. For example, you may think that if you didn’t get an A in a test, you failed. To overcome this, challenge yourself to find evidence that goes against this kind of thinking and come up with a more balanced view.
  1. Catastrophizing: This is the belief that the worst possible outcome is bound to happen. For example, you may think that if you give a presentation, you will humiliate yourself in front of everyone. To overcome this, try to focus on more realistic and positive outcomes.
  1. Overgeneralizing: This is the tendency to make sweeping generalizations based on a single event. For example, you may think that one bad date means you will never find love. To overcome this, remind yourself of the many exceptions that may prove this overgeneralization wrong.
  1. Personalization: This is the tendency to take things too personally and blame yourself for things that are beyond your control. For example, you may think that your friend’s bad mood is because of something you said. To overcome this, try to focus on external factors that may have influenced the situation.
  1. Mind-reading: This is the belief that you know what others are thinking without any evidence. For example, you may think that your boss thinks you are incompetent because they didn’t say hello in the morning. To overcome this, ask for clarification and evidence before jumping to conclusions.
  1. Emotional reasoning: This is the belief that your emotions are facts. For example, you may think that because you feel anxious, a certain situation must be dangerous. To overcome this, recognize that emotions are not always a reliable indicator of reality and try to challenge them with rational thinking.
  2. Should statements: This is the belief that things should be a certain way, and if they are not, you will be unhappy. For example, you may think that you should always do well in everything you do. To overcome this, recognize that there are no absolute “shoulds” in life and that it is okay to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  1. Labeling: This is the tendency to apply negative labels to oneself or others based on a single characteristic. For example, you may think of yourself as a failure because you didn’t get a promotion. To overcome this, remind yourself of your many other positive qualities and acknowledge that nobody is defined by a single aspect of their life.
  1. Filtering: This is the tendency to focus only on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore the positive ones. For example, you may think that a family gathering was terrible, only because one person annoyed you. To overcome this, try to find the positives in a situation and balance them against the negatives.
  1. Perfectionism: This is the belief that something is only worth doing if it can be done perfectly. For example, you may avoid trying new things because you fear failure. To overcome this, recognize that nobody is perfect and that mistakes and imperfections are a natural part of growth and learning.


These distortions can darken our mental landscape, but the good news is, they aren’t invincible. With CBT, we can learn to challenge and change these faulty patterns, replacing them with healthier, more balanced ways of thinking. While these faulty ways of thinking can be difficult to overcome, with practice and patience, CBT can help you make progress towards more positive and helpful thinking patterns.


 In the end, CBT isn’t just about overcoming cognitive distortions—it’s about reclaiming the power to shape our own narrative. It’s about cultivating a life that’s vibrant, resilient, and reflective of our true selves.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective and goal-oriented approach to therapy that can help you address and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or PTSD, CBT may be a good fit for you. Speak with a mental health professional to determine if CBT is the right for you and get started on your journey towards a more positive and healthy life.

More Information/Source:

Source: Beck Institute

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