Which Principle Underlies Cognitive Therapy? Do People Actually Benefit From Psychotherapy?

Which principle underlies cognitive therapy? Key concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy are related to the link between our behavior, thoughts, and emotions.

Mental health is equally important as physical health. A healthy mind is more conducive to creating a productive society where all community elements work together for the greater good of individuals and institutions.

However, life is never fair to the limit that no one ever feels burdened by everyday events. Stress and anxiety are much too common today than they were ever before. The struggle to be better, bigger, stronger, or fitter never really stops, mounting to the limit where one can collapse under the pressure of it all.

Instead of surviving in a vicious circle of guilt and pain, getting some necessary help can ensure your well-being. Cognitive behavioral therapy can deal with such situations by focusing on training the mind to perceive things in a positive light.

Key concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy relate to the link between our behavior, thoughts, and emotions. CBT aims to reduce stress in patients suffering from mental health issues by helping them to develop behaviors that are more adaptive to their surroundings. It is the go-to treatment for most mental health concerns.

What is cognitive therapy?

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a form of psychotherapy or psycho-treatment where patients are made aware of their thought patterns and recognize any harmful or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Individuals’ thoughts and emotions are vital in how they perceive their surroundings. We react to situations according to how we understand them; however, that can sometimes be faulty due to varying emotions. An angry person generally doesn’t realize that their judgement is clouded by the emotion running in them. Every thought that runs through the mind affects your actions, and because of this realization, you can change your behavior towards everything that concerns you.

Once the patterns are recognized, you can start doing something about them. Cognitive therapy focuses on alleviating distressful situations by changing how you look at a particular event or happening in your life. There is enough empirical data to support this psychotherapy, which is why it is the most widely utilized method for treating many mental health disorders. CBT has a direct, time-limited approach structured to treating various mental disorders

What are the three cognitive theories?

While there are multiple cognitive theories, some are more renowned than others. They all make an attempt to define in detail how cognitive development occurs through various stages of human life. Let’s look at the three most essential theories;

Piaget’s cognitive development theory

Jean Piaget (1936) is widely known for his theory of cognition, which considers four specific evolution stages.

  • The first is the sensorimotor stage which starts from birth and lasts for the first two years. It is the earliest stage of development and growth where infants build a basic understanding of the world around them through their senses and movements. Every touch and every feeling is registered at the sensory level. It is also the time for children to develop the concept of object permanence.
  • The second stage is pre-operational, lasting from two to seven years of age. Also called the symbolic play stage, it is when the language centers in the brain are activated, and a child starts their journey through abstract thinking.
  • The third stage is concrete-operational, starting from seven and lasting until the child is eleven. It is when logical thinking develops in a child, and their thoughts become concrete.
  • The fourth stage is formal operational, starting from the age of eleven and lasting for the rest of your life. This stage is for complete logical and concrete thinking while learning how to solve problems.

Vygotsky’s cognitive development theory

Contrary to Piaget, Lev Vygotsky proposed an alternate theory in 1932. He thought children’s cognitive development arises when they start physical interaction with the world around them. Vygotsky’s approach relies on the fact that children develop higher psychological functions with the support of their adults and peers. This theory is known as the sociocultural theory.

He thought that a child’s social surroundings and interactions initially enable them to start their developmental journey and when they begin internalizing all their learning, their cognition transfers to the individual level. For Vygotsky, children were like apprentices who kept learning from their adults or supervisors who understood their needs.

The two main themes of Vygotsky’s theory

  • First is the zone of proximal development. It is also explained as the distance between the level of a child’s development and the status of the actual potential of what they are capable of. It becomes more prominent when children start independent solving under the supervision of able peers and adults.

It can be explained by the fact that sometimes, some capable children perform better with guidance but are not so good when left to their own devices. It describes how children generally tend to thrive while they are around an able adult who is also supportive.

  • Secondly, according to Vygotsky, thinking and speech are vital to each other. There is undeniable proof of a strong relationship between the process of thinking and language development. His theory explains why and how children use their speech to think out loud in their early years. Then they evolve as time passes, and inner retrospection and silent speech start with mental and cognitive awareness.

Ecological systems theory

Much similar to Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, another approach tends to be more modern. It is by a famous American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who, in 1974, suggested that a child’s environment can have a differing impact if you keep the child within a set structure.

He offered a five-structured approach to understanding a child’s cognitive behavior development. According to Bronfenbrenner, these five structures are the micro-system, mesosystem, ecosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. All these systems are interrelated as they work together, impacting how a child grows mentally throughout their lives.

Family, culture, values and customs, and their schooling all play an integral part in shaping a child’s psyche. He believed that among these structures, the micro-system was the most influential, as it contained all the factors contributing to cognitive development.

What are the major principles of cognitive theory?

To understand the cognitive model of thinking and to conceptualize how that cognition works for us, psychologists have outlined the following three core principles or key concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy;

Core beliefs

The earliest encounters of our life are significantly crucial in how we view ourselves throughout life. Our childhood experiences inform our core beliefs. They shape our present and future and impact our ideas about such factors.

Dysfunctional assumptions

It is far too easy for us human beings to hold on to the negativity we experience in our lives. The percentage is much more significant than how much we remember the good and favorable circumstances. The pattern of such thoughts is irrational, and it ignites cognitive distortions in the human mind. This one fact ends up twisting how we perceive reality.

Automatic negative thoughts

When something happens to you or someone around you, and your initial involuntary reaction to that is negative, it is called having automatic negative thoughts. All such ideas just pop into your head out of habit. They cause negativity inside us and are hard to recognize as they become too much a part of who we are.

The human brain has so much potential; however, it is pretty rare for anyone to tap into that potential and completely change how they view or react to situations. It can be a powerful tool if you can access that part of your brain which can turn on or off all of your feelings.

Anyone can have distorted feelings at any point in life, and it is imperative to realize that it is quite alright to experience such at one point or another. An example of such cognitive distortions includes feelings such as thinking you’re a failure or thinking that you are nothing but a failure. Or the sense that one should never make mistakes regardless of anything and everything in life.

It is of utmost importance to realize that all such are just feelings, and one shouldn’t believe in them with absolute certainty. We all have a duty to ourselves, and throughout our life, we’re presented with the choice to respond to our thoughts. We can positively do that by treating ourselves with due kindness while becoming more realistic and practical about life.

What are the cognitive therapy techniques?

Like other therapies, CBT comes with its own techniques to help patients along their journey to healing and to have healthier thought patterns for a productive and happy life. These techniques aim to resolve unhelpful thoughts and behaviors by replacing them with feelings of encouragement and a realistic approach.

Various techniques can help a patient with cognitive behavioral issues, and while many of them are known to do what they advocate, not everyone is equally affected by them. The most common techniques include:

  • Recognizing your inaccurate thinking patterns, as they can become volatile and create far worse problems for you.
  • Problem-solving is an essential skill learned over time and learning new ways to solve problems can help with having a positive mindset.
  • Appreciating and understanding your self-worth is crucial as it helps gain you a confident personality.
  • Learning to face and challenge your fears is essential for dealing with cognitive disorders.
  • Psychologists suggest using role-playing and various calming techniques to deal with challenging situations.

Take this example; for instance, you feel sad and depressed and think life is meaningless. Working with CBT techniques can help change this state to something like, “I need to take charge of my life and find value in my relationships.”

These are some of the most popular ways used in CBT:

  • Smart pretensions: Smart pretensions are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-limited.
  • Guided discovery and questioning: Your therapist can help you learn to challenge these studies and consider different ideas by questioning the hypotheticals you have about yourself or your current situation.
  • Journaling: You might be asked to jot down negative beliefs during the week and how you can replace them positively.
  • Self-talk. Your therapist may ask what you tell yourself about a particular situation or experience and challenge you to replace negative or critical Self-talk with compassionate, formative Self-talk.
  • Cognitive restructuring: This involves looking at any cognitive deformations affecting your studies, similar to black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, or catastrophizing and beginning to unravel them.
  • Allowed recording: This technique will record studies and passions endured during a specific situation. You will also come up with unprejudiced substantiation supporting your negative belief. You’ll use this substantiation to develop a more realistic study.
  • Positive conditioning: Cataloging a satisfying exertion daily can help increase overall positivity and alleviate your mood. Some exemplifications might include buying yourself fresh flowers or fruit, watching a favorite movie, or taking a fun day out.
  • Situation exposure: This involves listing situations and effects that cause you to stress or keep you in a state of torture. The listing order should be according to the intensity of a particular situation’s impact on you. Methodical desensitization follows the same technique where you learn ways of relaxation to help you manage stress in a delicate case.
  • Homework: It is another crucial CBT technique. It is called homework because of its similarities with actual school homework. We learn skills through our home tasks and assignments. In cognitive behavioral therapy, patients are given exercises to help them learn and keep track of new skills.

The basic idea behind such activities is to keep track of all self-belittling thoughts and to work on them in a way that they are changed or shift to something more positive, for instance, self-compassion, empathy, and benevolence towards oneself.

What can CBT help with?

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with multiple mental health issues with varying degrees of intensity, some of which are stated below:

  • General or specific depression
  • Eating disorders can mess up a person’s life in a terrible way. CBT can help deal with them.
  • If you have PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, then you’re a good candidate for cognitive therapy.
  • Different anxiety or panic disorders and phobias can turn life into a hellish nightmare. CBT has proven to be successful in curbing such thoughts.
  • OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and substance misuse or addiction can ultimately hamper life for the patient and their family. Cognitive therapy can help.

While CBT is the most common go-to technique for various severe mental health problems, what cognitive therapists believe is that there are some general or not-so-serious issues that CBT can help deal with and provide a solution to:

  • You can go for cognitive therapy if you face difficulties in your relationships.
  • Going through a nasty patch in a relationship, for instance, a messy breakup or divorce can be torturous. But instead of dealing with all the problems alone, you can find help through CBT.
  • Bad things like getting to know about a severe physical ailment like cancer can happen to anyone. A life-threatening situation like that calls for all the support the patient can receive. Cognitive therapy can help cope with such concerns.
  • The same goes with grief and loss; it can be that somebody you love is no more or the sadness of losing something integral in life.
  • CBT has shown promise in helping patients deal with chronic pains and low self-esteem.
  • Insomnia and general life stress can change into serious illnesses without us realizing what’s happening.
  • Anger management issues are all too real, and while they do not fall into the category of being a severe mental illness, they can turn into something serious, causing significant implications.
  • Academic performance can get seriously altered in a stressful situation. CBT can help deal with such distressful situations, ultimately increasing the chances of a successful academic life.

How successful is cognitive behavior therapy?

CBT stands as one of the most successful types of therapies that are available. Many psychotherapists consider it their first and foremost choice in treating patients of varying mental health issues.

There is research and data accumulated over the years that proves its efficacy:

  • In 2018, a study was conducted through trusted sources that looked at around 41 individuals with mental health problems like OCD, PTSD, and various anxiety disorders. It was confirmed through trials and evidence that CBT effectively improved these conditions. It showed promise, especially in treating stress and anxiety.
  • Another study during the same year revolved around young adults and students, and CBT proved successful in providing long-term positive results related to stress. Once the patients were done with therapy, they did not show any symptoms of the earlier onset of anxiety.
  • In 2011, a research was published which showed findings that CBT was not only successful in treating depression, but it was also able to reduce the chances of that depression recurring at any point in time. CBT is one of those very few techniques that actually reduces the chances of relapse among patients.
  • In 2011, another research came up with suggestions that if CBT was paired with proper medications, it had the capacity to help improve bipolar disorder in various cases. This study, however, requires more research for a complete result.
  • One study in 2017 concluded that CBT could improve brain functions while looking at 43 cases of patients with OCD, as it helped deal with the resistance of different compulsions.
  • CBT proved successful in a case study where its effect was studied on 104 people suffering from either PTSD or some major depression. It significantly helped improve their cognitive functions.
  • In the year 2010, research was conducted on people under treatment for substance misuse and addiction. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that CBT could help improve patients find their way out of a life of addiction and stay clear of any relapses.
  • Then most recently, newer research has emerged, in 2020 and 2021, which shows the great potential of online and digital-based CBT as an effective psychotherapy treatment. Since most practices went virtual soon after the pandemic in 2019, therapists also started practicing CBT online. More studies are required to conclude about cognitive therapy’s digital reach and what techniques can be more beneficial for patients.

Different types of cognitive behavioral therapy

Only a professionally trained therapist can understand which therapy will work for which patient. While multiple forms of treatment come under the umbrella of CBT, only your psychotherapist can confirm what will suit you according to your specific needs. Let’s look at a few of these:

  • Exposure therapy includes various anxiety-involved activities or situations in which people can find themselves for tracked periods. Anyone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias can find effective healing through this type of psychotherapy.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, focuses on things like mood regulation while incorporating mindfulness during group or individual therapy sessions. Anyone dealing with any kind of personality disorder, eating disorder, or borderline depression is a good candidate for this technique.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, is the kind of therapy where the patient is asked to accept all of their negative and unwanted pessimistic thoughts. It is an excellent option for anyone who has to deal with intrusive and catastrophic thinking.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, uses techniques such as mindfulness and meditation along with regular cognitive therapy. It has a significant impact on people who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and general anxiety disorders.
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy, or REBT, is the original CBT technique that focuses on negative thinking patterns and how they influence issues that occur within our behaviors and emotions. It is an all-inclusive technique that offers support for a wide range of mental health problems, from anxiety to stress to depression. It also includes help regarding sleep disorders, addictions, etc.

Benefits of cognitive behavior therapy

CBT can offer excellent results if you are in trouble or have someone around you who needs exceptional support in dealing with life.

  • CBT is a short-term therapy with long-term results. While most other forms of psychotherapies take a lot of time and investment, cognitive therapy can wind up in around 20 sessions or so with lasting results and a minimum chance of relapse.
  • It is much easier on the pocket, and its affordability makes it very popular among the general masses. Group sessions can cost even less than one-to-one sessions.
  • CBT sessions are not only inexpensive because they are short-term, but they are also very flexible in terms of their format. They are available as virtual sessions as well as one-on-one.
  • The skills that one gets to learn and master in CBT can leave lasting impacts as they don’t only help in getting rid of mental ailments, but they are also extremely effective for everyday life processes. The tools that one learns in therapy help with taking control of one’s life issues during the course of therapy and afterward.


It is important to understand what cognitive therapy is based on and what cognitive therapists believe. It is based entirely on one idea that our thinking has an influence on our actions and on how we behave or react to our surrounding environment. Cognitive behavior therapy can help a person deal with various difficult situations in life. What’s important is to remember that we should not hesitate to ask for help as a sound mind is conducive to a sound, physically fit body.

Cognitive therapy techniques can play an active role if someone needs to heal their mind without focusing too much on medications as they may have multiple side effects. However, certain mental health cases require medication and so shying away from something necessary isn’t something anyone would recommend. It pays in life to have a positive mindset about everything.