Key concepts and principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the most utilised method in the United Kingdom for treating depression and anxiety. It has also been proven to help patients effectively overcome a range of other psychological issues. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented and problem-focused approach. It will not be efficient without patients’ active participation.

This article outlines some key concepts and principles of CBT, including psycho-education, and a list of cognitive distortions. 


As described in Judith Beck’s book ‘Cognitive Behavior Therapy – basics and beyond’, CBT sessions are structured and therapists use psycho-education to enable patients to gain a deeper understanding of the role of cognition in correcting automatic thoughts and unhelpful behaviours (to learn more about automatic thoughts and unhelpful behaviours, click here).

The objective of psycho-education is to allow patients to be taught techniques that will help them modify their thinking, mood and behaviours. Patients also learn how to adapt and tailor these techniques to specific situations. Adaptation and tailoring are essential when it comes to therapy because there is no one-size-fits-all models. Even the best technique will not be efficient if the therapist does not teach the patient how to adapt it to different situations. 

Cognitive distortions 

In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, mental health issues are believed to develop through the use of cognitive distortions. According to Judith Beck, when patients learn how to correct these distortions, then they will reach a more accurate vision of the events they experience. CBT enables patients to develop skills that will better help them process exposure to life events. Here is a list of cognitive distortions:

Always being right is a distortion that happens when the person is always putting others on trial to prove their opinions are correct.

Blaming is a distortion where people believe that someone else is responsible for their difficulties and emotional pain or hold themselves responsible for occurring problems.

Catastrophising represents a distortion that assumes the expectation that the worst is going to happen. For example, some people believe that an unimportant error at work is going to have huge negative consequences. 

Emotional reasoning occurs when feelings are considered as facts. The person is unable to make difference between feelings and facts. 

Failure of change is assuming that other people will change to suit them if pressured enough. This is a common distortion found in relationships. For example, a woman thinking that if the partner gives her what she wants, she would be happier.

Failure of fairness is a distortion where patients measure things, including life events and other people’s acts and behaviours by an imaginary ruler of fairness. A person may feel exasperated or irritated because they consider that they have a clear definition of fairness, but the others may have a different opinion and not agree with them. 

Filtering is a distortion involving both minimisation and magnification. Minimisation refers to underplaying the significance of a specific event. For example, someone compliments you, but you see it as trivial. Magnification is the opposite. It occurs when people exaggerate the importance of an undesirable event. For instance, you go on a busy train and this ruins your entire day. 

Global labelling is a distortion where people tend to generalise single qualities into a general judgment. For example, if they fail an exam, they believe that they are stupid. 

Heaven’s Reward Failure occurs when people believe that  self-sacrifice will eventually pay off. 

Overgeneralisation is when people make negative conclusions based on a single insignificant event. For example, you might think that you are an unsuccessful psychology student because you failed only one exam. 

Personalisation is the attribution of the negative feelings of others and the world around them. For instance, a woman is upset and her husband automatically thinks that it’s his fault. 

Polarisation or ‘Black and White’ thinking is a distortion that happens when things are all or nothing. For example, some people believe that others are good or bad; intelligent or stupid.

Shoulds are distortions that occur when people tend to set up rigid rules about how other individuals should think and behave. For example, someone thinks that they should work out because physical activity is positive and everyone should do this. For some reason, they don’t do it and feel guilty. 

If you wish to learn more about the benefits of CBT, please click here.

If you are looking for therapist and you would like to book a private session, please contact me on

With warm wishes,

Dr Ivanka Ezhova  (check biography here).