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Cognitive Therapy


Updated: October 16, 2007

What Is Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive therapy makes the assumption that thoughts precede moods and that false self-beliefs lead to negative emotions. Cognitive therapy aims to help the patient recognize and reassess his patterns of negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts that more closely reflect reality.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive therapy recognizes 10 common patterns of faulty thinking, which are known as cognitive distortions.

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Failing to recognize that there may be some middle ground. Characterized by absolute terms like always, never, and forever.
  • Overgeneralization: Taking an isolated case and assuming that all others are the same.
  • Mental Filter: Mentally singling out the bad events in one's life and overlooking the positive.
  • Disqualifying the Positive: Treating positive events like they don't really count.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Assuming the worst about a situation even though there is no evidence to back their conclusion.
  • Magnification and Minimization: Downplaying positive events while paying an inordinate amount of attention to negative ones.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Allowing your emotions to govern what you think about a situation rather than objectively looking at the facts.
  • Should Statements: Rigidly focusing on how you think things should be rather than finding strategies for dealing with how things are.
  • Labeling and Mislabeling: Applying false and harsh labels to oneself and others.
  • Personalization: Blaming yourself for things that are out of your control.

What Is Cognitive Therapy Used For?

Studies have shown that cognitive therapy is an effective treatment for depression. It is comparable in effectiveness to antidepressants and interpersonal therapy or psychodynamic therapy. The combination of cognitive therapy and antidepressants has been shown to be effective in managing severe or chronic depression. Cognitive therapy has also proven beneficial to patients who have only a partial response to antidepressants. There is good evidence that cognitive therapy reduces relapse rates. In addition, some evidence has shown that cognitive therapy is effective in treating adolescent depression.


Burns, David D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books:New York, NY, 1999.

Rupke, Stuart J., David Blecke, Marjorie Renfrow. "Cognitive Therapy for Depression." American Family Physician. 73.1 (January 2006):83-6.

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