Cognitive Restructuring or Cognitive Reframing

Cognitive restructuring, or cognitive reframing, is a therapeutic process that helps the client discover, challenge, and modify or replace their negative, irrational thoughts (or cognitive distortions).

Cognitive restructuring was first developed as a therapeutic tool of CBT and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or REBT (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). CBT practitioners quickly found that it was an adaptable and flexible tool that could help a wide range of people dealing with all kinds of problems, whether the problems were due to outside factors, internal issues, or both.

Performance Enhancement in Athletes

The process of “strengthening positive behaviour and weakening negative behaviour towards a goal” (Behncke, 2004, p.8-9) has meant that CBT is inherently appealing to sport psychologists focusing on performance enhancement in athletes. Historically, the framework has had a strong impact on sport psychology’s development (Smith, 2006), and still, to this day, remains a dominant approach to cognitive and behavioural interventions in sport.

CBT for Depression

With regards to depression, studies have shown that cognitive therapy is often as effective a treatment for depression as anti-depressant medication. What's more, its anti-depressant effect lasts longer than medication's anti-depressant effect when both therapies are stopped. This is probably because anti-depressant medications act directly on the brain's structure and chemistry to suppress the likely that depressive interpretations will be made, while cognitive therapy teaches you how to avoid taking seriously the depressive interpretations that otherwise do get made. When anti-depressant medications are no longer taken, the brain tends to go back to its pre-drug structure and chemistry, making it more likely that depressive interpretations will become common again. No such suppressive-rebound will occur in the wake of cognitive therapy, because nothing was ever suppressed.

Cognitive Restructuring for Panic Disorder

Several theories of psychotherapy are founded on the notion that mood and anxiety disorders are largely caused by faulty thinking patterns. Negative thinking can be a major issue faced by people with panic disorder. Also known as cognitive distortions, these negative thinking processes may contribute to panic and anxiety symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of psychotherapy that is based on the idea that our thoughts influence our feelings and behaviors. Thus, those with a pessimistic view of themselves and the world around them will be susceptible to issues with depression and anxiety. CBT focuses on reinforcing healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

The appraisal process

Cognitive behavioral therapies are based on the premise that cognitive (mental) events are very important; that people actively interpret and appraise events that happen to them, even though they are not commonly aware that they are doing this. Their appraisal process – their process of making sense of stimulus events – essentially determines how they will react to those stimulus events. In other words, people do not passively response to events in predetermined ways, but rather add their own 'spin' to events which helps to determine how they will ultimately respond to those events. Cognitive behavioral therapies are sometimes referred to as "SOR" approaches, with the "O" standing for organism in recognition that there is a thinking person who interprets the meaning of stimulus events (the "S"), before acting out a response.

To learn more about how CBT uses cognitive restructuring techniques, watch this video of CBT founding father Aaron Beck discussing this method.


Negative thinking can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. While cognitive restructuring has been shown to have a positive effect on reducing occasional negative thinking, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over related illnesses or if negative thoughts are causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

Dr Anton Kruger can be contacted via email at



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