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  • Toronto Psychotherapy Space

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT?

Updated: Jan 23

We’ve all heard the terminology but what is it exactly? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

stands as a transformative approach to mental health, offering individuals a powerful tool to

cope with and overcome various psychological challenges. With an emphasis on the

connections between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

(CBT) is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapeutic technique that works.

Individuals who participate in CBT not only gain increased clarity and resilience to navigate the ups and downs of life, but they also acquire useful tools for understanding themselves better.

Understanding the Basics

At its core, CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that seeks to find and adapt negative thought patterns and behaviours. Developed by Aaron T. Beck in the late 60’s, and further refined by Albert Ellis, CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn affect our actions or behaviours, thereby shaping the way we see the outside world. Referred to as the cognitive triangle, it’s critical to understanding CBT and helps clients simplify the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviours (actions). Below is an example of a CBT triangle.

Thoughts: refer to the cognitive aspect of CBT. It involves identifying, examining and challenging thoughts and beliefs a person holds about themselves, others and the world around them.

Feelings: refer to the emotions we experience in relation to the thoughts and beliefs we hold. By addressing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, individuals can work towards regulating their emotional responses.

Actions: is influenced by an individuals thoughts and feelings. CBT identifies disfuntional actions that may be contributing to an individuals distress and provides strategies for behaviour .

A Look at the Key Principles of CBT

Our Core Beliefs

Acknowledging that early experiences frequently impact our underlying beliefs is a vital part.

These ideas get embedded in our minds and shape the way we see the world, ourselves, and the future. CBT emphasizes how critical it is to investigate and comprehend these deeply ingrained beliefs because they have a substantial influence on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours as adults. Individuals can enhance their mental health by recognizing and questioning these underlying assumptions and working to cultivate more positive and adaptable viewpoints.

Dysfunctional Assumptions

Many of us have a cognitive bias that makes us more likely to hold onto those negative rather than good beliefs. This tendency stems from cognitive distortions, which are irrational thought processes that skew our perceptions of reality. By urging individuals to look critically at the data underlying their unfavourable views, CBT seeks to expose and challenge these distortions. By promoting a more realistic and balanced view of things, CBT helps individuals break free from the loop of negative thinking, improving mental well-being and healthy responses to life's obstacles.

Automatic Negative Thoughts

Instinctive negative thoughts (ANTs) are pessimistic perceptions of events that come to mind

without prompting. With CBT, individuals can begin to recognize and challenge these

unfavourable thought habits. Changing their viewpoints and creating better, more positive

thought patterns by looking at the underlying ideas that contribute to negative thoughts.

This therapeutic approach empowers individuals to break the vicious cycle of negativity, and

promotes resilience and enhanced mental health. Naturally, the next question is how does this therapy help promote good mental health? What tools and techniques are used during CBT?

Here are some examples, although there are many more:


A key therapeutic technique in CBT is decatastrophizing. It helps patients examine and refute catastrophic ideas. Using this method, irrational worries or worst-case scenarios are broken down into more manageable and realistic parts. By dissecting the imagined disaster, individuals can investigate less upsetting options and realize that the worst-case scenarios are often unlikely or exaggerated. In CBT, decatastrophizing helps people gain a more logical and balanced perspective, which lowers anxiety and improves their capacity to handle difficult situations.

The ABC Technique

The ABC approach, which explains how beliefs, consequences, and activating events interact is another fundamental tool in the CBT tool kit. The letter "A" stands for the trigger, or activating event, that sets off an individual’s emotional response. The letter "B"stands for Beliefs, which are the thoughts and interpretations individuals attach to the trigger event. These beliefs may or may not be reasonable. Lastly, "C" stands for Consequences, which include the behavioural and emotional effects that stem from an individuals views on the activating event. By helping people see and question illogical beliefs, the ABC approach promotes cognitive reorganization and more healthy emotional reactions to life's challenges.

Thought Records

When undergoing CBT, thought journals are used to help individuals track and analyze their

automatic feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. The procedure involves logging those situations (triggering events), identifying automatic thoughts that surface in reaction, and categorizing related feelings and actions. By dissecting these components, individuals can gain insight into how their thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected. Thought journals make it easier to recognize irrational beliefs and cognitive distortions, enabling individuals to question and reframe negative thought patterns for more balanced and realistic ones, which promotes positive change and emotional well-being.

The benefits of CBT are extensively documented. Numerous studies, including meta-analyses, attest to its efficacy in treating a spectrum of mental health conditions, such as:

  • Depression - CBT is a front-line treatment for depression that helps individuals to

  • Anxiety Disorders - CBT gives people coping skills to control their anxious thoughts and behaviours, whether they are related to panic disorder or generalized anxiety

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - CBT helps people with OCD to manage their symptoms, lessen anxiety, and take back control of their life by addressing both the behavioural and cognitive parts of the disorder.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - CBT helps people process and overcome traumatic situations, particularly when used in conjunction with exposure therapy.

At TPS Therapy, our therapists often incorporate CBT principles and techniques into their

sessions. Book a free 20-minute psychotherapy consultation with us today to learn more about how CBT can contribute to a healthier mindset.

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