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The 10 Core Principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Explained

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach to counseling that seeks to understand the ways that thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected. When people become aware of the way their thinking impacts their emotions and then their behaviors, they can make changes in their thoughts or actions that will positively impact their emotional wellbeing. In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into the underlying principles of CBT to explain why it’s such a beneficial therapeutic technique.

The Three Levels of Cognition

To begin CBT, your therapist will talk to you about the three levels of cognition:

  • Core Beliefs – learned in childhood and applied to view of the self, world, and what will likely happen in the future.
  • Dysfunctional Assumptions – also called cognitive distortions, these are irrational, exaggerated, or catastrophizing patterns of thinking.
  • Automatic Negative Thoughts – habitually negative assumptions about reality.

These three levels of cognition will color the perceptions people have of their reality. Problematic core beliefs from childhood lead to dysfunctional assumptions, which can then develop into automatic negative thinking. CBT helps to peel back each of these layers by developing self-awareness of automatic negative thinking. Then, exploring the underlying assumptions that lead to these automatic thoughts, and finally, delving into core beliefs that underpin both dysfunctional assumptions and automatic negative thoughts.

Beck’s Cognitive Model

The way that CBT works is through understanding the levels of cognition as well as how situations impact these levels of cognition. Specifically, CBT utilizes Beck’s cognitive model described below:

  • Situations – a specific situation will trigger a person to have a thought.
  • Thoughts – these thoughts may be automatic negative thinking based on dysfunctional assumptions that develop out of problematic core beliefs.
  • Reactions – when negative thinking occurs, it impacts the way a person feels as well as how they react.

Understanding this natural process allows people to reassess each situation where they struggle and make changes in thinking and reacting that improve emotional wellness.

The 10 Core Principles of CBT

In addition to these cognitive models underlying CBT, the following ten core principles are utilized in guiding CBT:

  1. CBT is based on an ever-evolving formulation of a person’s problems and the individual conceptualizations of each person in cognitive terms.
  2. CBT requires a sound therapeutic alliance.
  3. CBT emphasizes collaboration and active participation.
  4. CBT is goal-oriented and problem-focused.
  5. CBT initially emphasizes the present.
  6. CBT is educative, aims to teach the person to be their own therapist, and emphasizes relapse prevention.
  7. CBT aims to be time limited.
  8. CBT sessions are structured.
  9. CBT teaches people to identify, evaluate, and respond to their dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs.
  10. CBT uses a variety of techniques to change thinking, mood, and behavior.

Ready to Learn More?

CBT is one of the most popular therapy approaches for good reason. If you’re struggling with a life transition, want to achieve a specific goal, or you need help processing strong emotions, CBT may be a good option. When you’re ready to learn more, the knowledgeable professionals at The Center for CBT in New York City are here to help. Reach out over the phone at (917) 596-8955 or complete our online scheduling request form.


What Should I Do Next?

When you’re ready to begin therapy, we hope you’ll consider contacting The Center for CBT in New York City. We offer a safe space where you are free to be who you really are and express yourself and your values authentically. We embrace, value, and welcome people of all sexual orientations, genders, and racial identities. The Center for CBT in New York City makes beginning your therapy journey simple. You can get started any time by completing our online consultation request form. One of our team members will be in touch within 24 business hours to answer your questions.

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