Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Exercises to Try

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Get Out of Your Head" by Jennie Allen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How is Christian cognitive behavioral therapy different from other types of cognitive-behavioral therapy? What are some exercises you can try?

Christian cognitive behavioral therapy integrates regular therapy techniques with religious affirmations and encouragement. Religious belief offers another layer of support that can be helpful for improving mood and mindset.

Here are some Christian cognitive behavioral therapy exercises to try.

Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises

According to Jennie Allen, Satan attacks your mind by convincing you to believe lies about yourself, which are rooted in a lie about God.

Your self-lies resolve into three general categories:

  • “I’m helpless.”
  • “I’m worthless.”
  • “I’m unlovable.”

The fundamental lie about God that lurks behind your self-lies is the unconscious belief that God’s love isn’t for you. The source of these lies is both spiritual and practical. As stated in Chapter 1, the ultimate source of all such lies is demonic. On the practical level, painful life experiences generate self-lies, which then become part of you when engraved in your brain through toxic thoughts.

Exercise 1: Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

A key Christian cognitive behavioral therapy exercise is to reframe negative thoughts. The skill has a reciprocal relationship with stillness, in that stillness enables you to do it, while doing it is a strategy for reaching stillness 

The core strategy for reframing negative thoughts is as follows:

First, learn the basic negative thought pattern, which keeps you trapped in negativity: [negative emotion] because [reason]. Consider these examples:

  • I’m overwhelmed because I have so many responsibilities.
  • I’m anxious because I work long hours but can’t make ends meet.
  • I’m furious because that person was rude.

Next, contrast the negative thought pattern with the alternative empowering rewritten pattern: [negative emotion] and [reason], so I will [choice]. Consider these examples:

  • I’m overwhelmed and have many responsibilities, so I will pause and thank God for giving me the strength to accomplish what I need to do.
  • I’m anxious and worried about my finances, so I will choose to pray and trust God instead of giving into fear.
  • I’m furious and that person was rude, so I will reflect on God’s patience and kindness toward me.

Then use this knowledge to 1) identify and understand a negative thought, and 2) replace it with a rewritten, empowering thought. The exercise following this chapter will give you an opportunity for practicing.

Here’s a visual that shows how you can reverse the negative spiral of distraction by choosing stillness: 

Chapter 8 of Jennie Allen’s Get Out of Your Head lays out a practical strategy for reframing negative thoughts by exposing them, deconstructing them, and replacing them with positive thoughts from God. 

  • Consider again the mental story map that you made for Chapter 6. Select one of your toxic thoughts that you identified and, if the thought isn’t already stated in the form of [negative emotion] + [reason], rephrase it that way below.
  • Now use the empowering rewritten pattern to change it: [negative emotion] and [reason], so I will [choice], with the “choice” being a deliberate embrace of some appropriate, scripturally based truth. Write the result below.
  • What insight does this exercise provide? How does it shed new light on your own mental processes and your ability to “mind your mind” and consciously shift your thoughts in a Godly direction?

Exercise 2: Create a Mental Story Map

Another key Christian cognitive behavioral therapy exercise to try is to create a mental story map. To do the work described in these chapters, one useful and practical tool is a “mental story map.” Evil never wants you to notice it. It prefers to sneak in and hijack your mind. A mental story map provides a specific technique for shining light on these unwanted intruders.

Here’s how you make one:

  • Step 1: Draw your map.
    • Write down your current primary emotion. Draw a circle around it.
    • Around the circle, write contributing factors. Unfinished work? A relationship? Money? Circle each and draw a line to the central emotion.
    • Near each smaller circle, list how it contributes to your current emotion.
  • Step 2: Talk to God.
    • Pray through each item.
    • Search the scriptures for relevant truths.
    • Ask God to reveal wrong thoughts about himself and yourself.
  • Step 3: Look for common patterns and themes in your map items (anxiety about things you can’t control? anger at insults? self-criticism?).
  • Step 4: Notice the storyline your thoughts build about God. Is it true or false?

(Shortform note: To learn a similar approach to “minding your mind,” read our summary of Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond.)

Exercise 3: Read Our Summary of Get Out of Your Head

The third Christian cognitive behavioral therapy exercise is to train yourself rigorously. Then, in the heat of battle, trust your training. Read our summary of Jennie Allen’s Get Out of Your Head and practice the disciplines described in this book. They really work.

Use the strategies in this book. Fight the battles. Identify your areas of weakness and vulnerability, and reprogram your thoughts. Do the work of reshaping your heart-mind. Remember and take encouragement from the fact of your brain’s plasticity. Consider learning more about this so that you can better appreciate its encouraging implications, and also the dangers of allowing unchecked negative thought spirals.

Exercise 4: Reconstruct Your Mental Scaffolding

The final Christian cognitive behavioral therapy exercise will help you rewire your brain. Your neurons are tiny structures called microtubules. They’re the neurological scaffolding for your thoughts, which lead them in a constant activity of building, deconstructing, and reshaping. It takes only ten minutes for them to build new scaffolding in response to a thought. In other words, you can literally change your brain in minutes. With each positive or negative choice of thought, you both bring about and contribute momentum to positive or negative brain change.

Think of it this way: Your goal and calling is to be like an astronaut whose entire life is built around perpetual training for their next mission. Every day, week, month, and year revolves around a training schedule. The missions themselves are grueling and demanding. Blasting into space and staying there for extended periods is hard on the mind and body, and also on human relationships. Only those who believe deeply in the value of such work and are totally committed to it can last. And only the rigor of their training enables them to carry it out.

The discipline involved in interrupting your negative spirals, changing your brain, and renewing your mind will likely require a daily battle at first. See Paul’s description of the battle between the Spirit and the flesh, the Christian’s “new self” and old sin nature, in Romans 7:22-23.

But the ultimate goal goes beyond having to fight every day. What we’re after is a new baseline, a new default setting for “normal” in our minds that’s positive, healthy, and God-directed instead of negative and infested by the enemy’s thoughts. The goal is to keep “minding your mind” and practicing Godly thought patterns until this becomes automatic. In other words, the goal is to do what Paul referred to in Romans 8 as “setting the mind on the spirit.”

Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Exercises to Try

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Here's what you'll find in our full Get Out of Your Head summary :

  • Satan’s master plan for poisoning your mind with toxic thoughts
  • How to replace ungodly lies with scriptural truths
  • How to “put on the mind of Christ” and fulfill God’s plan for you

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

2 thoughts on “Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Exercises to Try

  • January 9, 2023 at 11:05 am

    Hey Elizabeth,
    My name’s Dan. I associate you writing on Christian CBT. As someone with ADHD, do you have any recommendations of books specifically regarding developing strategies and skills for executive function, decision-making, and time management?

  • October 16, 2023 at 12:23 am

    I need help understanding how a son can live with someone who takes his family away from heart hurts for his children. He has a good heart but she has stolen it away.


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