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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond by Judith S. Beck.
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While Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a text to train psychiatry practitioners, many of the techniques can be applicable to daily life. Even if you aren’t formally diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you likely face situations that evoke more negative emotions than you’d like—nervousness talking to your boss, road rage, anxiety in social situations, stress that you won’t get everything done, or fear of failure in trying something new.

This summary focuses on the key CBT interventions to change your dysfunctional automatic thoughts and behaviors. These are generally applicable for all readers, not just those aiming to practice CBT for patients.

When you feel dysphoria (negative emotion), think the cardinal question: “What was just going through my head?” Articulate the thought explicitly.

  • e.g. “I’m afraid that people will think my project proposal is stupid.”

Evaluate the thought with these questions:

  • What is the evidence that your thought is true? What is the evidence on the other side?
  • What is an alternative way of viewing this situation? What else could explain the person’s behavior/the outcome?
  • Outcome analysis
    • What’s the worst that could happen? How would you cope with this situation?
    • What’s the best that could happen?
    • What’s the most realistic outcome of this situation? (especially if you tend to catastrophize)
  • What is the effect of believing your negative automatic thought? What could be the effect of changing your thinking to be more positive?
  • If your friend were in this situation and had the same automatic thought, what advice would you give him or her?
  • What should you do going forward? How likely are you to do this?

Patterns of cognitive distortions: These put a label to common ways that people distort reality in self-defeating ways.

  • Catastrophizing—imagining the worst possible thing that could happen
  • Selective bias/tunnel vision/discounting the positive —focusing and emphasizing negative evidence for, ignoring or de-emphasizing positive evidence against
  • All-or-nothing—either you get an A or you’re a total failure
  • Mind reading—assuming negative intent or belief of other people, without considering other possibilities
  • Emotional reasoning—because you feel it so strongly, it must be true
    • I feel like...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Principles of Mental Disorders

The cognitive model proposes that dysfunctional thinking is common to all psychological disturbances. In this way, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety may be considered thinking disorders. The patient has automatic dysfunctional self-talk that influences behavior negatively; the behavior is then interpreted in a negatively biased way, leading to worse thinking. This reinforces itself into a vicious cycle.

  • Example: A patient wants to try something new. She thinks, “you’re definitely going to fail, you’re not good at anything.” → Anxious about failing, the patient declines to try the new activity. → She then thinks, “I told you, you can’t get anything right—you’re worthless.”

The negative thinking extends to the core of a patient’s beliefs about herself, the world, and other people, as well as intermediate levels of attitudes, rules, and assumptions the patient holds.

It’s not just the situation itself that makes a person feel a certain way, but also how they construe it, what lens they use to view it.

  • Cyclical downfalls can be triggered by precipitating factors, such as a sudden provocation in stress.
  • The patient may have...

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Shortform Exercise: Consider Your Automatic Thoughts

Automatic thoughts can arise for all people. Think about what automatic thoughts you have and how they affect your emotion.


Think about the last time you felt an automatic negative emotion in response to a situation. What was the situation? What were you feeling?

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Principles of Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is directed toward solving current problems and modifying dysfunctional thinking and behavior. Changing the underlying belief system leads to enduring behavior change.

CBT encourages the patient to:

  • Recognize the negative thoughts that are happening automatically.
  • Recognize the biased interpretations of their experiences.
  • Examine the evidence of a situation. View their experiences from a more realistic and objective perspective.
    • Example: Instead of thinking “I can’t do anything right,” patients are led to think, “I’m not good at this specific task. But I’m good at others.”
  • Experiment with exposure to situations they fear to test their negative predictions.
  • Reflect on their experiments to adjust their beliefs.

The cardinal question of CBT: “What was just going through my mind?

CBT treatment has 6 characteristics.

1) CBT is Collaborative

  • The therapist and patient work together on the session agenda and after-session homework. As the patient improves, the patient takes more initiative.
  • The therapist shares the conceptualization to ensure it “rings true,” rather than forcing her understanding...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide The CBT Session Structure

Each CBT session consists of a regular structure. Here we’ll go over the structure for three types of sessions:

  • The evaluation session, which aims to build a cognitive conceptualization of the patient
  • The first therapy session, where treatment and problem-solving will begin
  • Each therapy session afterward, where treatment continues and the patient progresses toward self-sufficiency

The session structures will refer to tasks such as problem-solving, identifying beliefs, and assigning homework. We’ll cover those items in the next chapters.

The Evaluation Session

The goal in the evaluation session is to start building a cognitive conceptualization of the patient. Treatment and problem-solving should NOT be done until the first therapy session.

Prepare by gathering all the notes available, including previous psychiatry work.

  • Check that the patient has had a recent medical check-up—an organic issue like hypothyroidism may be misdiagnosed as depression.

Invite a family member or friend to attend, but start the meeting alone with the patient and discuss when to bring the other person in on the session.

**Set the agenda and convey expectations for the...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Identifying Automatic Thoughts and Problem Solving

A key part of treating mood disorders is identifying the patient’s automatic thoughts and guiding the patient to evaluate them and overcome them. This is done by:

  • Articulating the automatic thought explicitly.
  • Evaluating the automatic thought for validity and utility.
  • Constructing behavioral experiments to highlight the discrepancy between the patient’s automatic thoughts and reality.

We’ll cover each component in a dedicated section.

Identifying Automatic Thoughts

The key question of identifying automatic thoughts is: “What is going through your mind right now?”

To elicit the automatic thought, try a range of techniques:

  • Paint a vivid picture. Ask the patient to imagine the situation, picture the time, and revisit exactly what the patient was doing.
  • Ask for a description of the physical sensation of the emotion.
    • “Where did you feel the anxiety?”
  • Turn the reflection into present tense—past tense obscures the emotional response.
  • Ask the opposite of what you think the thought was. “Did you think you were going to ace the test?”
  • Role play the situation with the patient.
  • If the patient is unresponsive, ask what...

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Shortform Exercise: Question Your Own Automatic Thoughts

Reflect on automatic thoughts you have and how they might be improved.


Think about a time in the past day or so where you felt a negative emotion about yourself (like self-doubt, anxiety, or sadness). What was going through your mind just then?

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Identifying Deeper Beliefs

After the first session, you can begin building a cognitive conceptualization of the patient, linking the whole pathway of

  • Formative experiences
  • To core beliefs
  • To intermediate rules, assumptions, and beliefs
  • To coping strategies
  • To automatic thoughts and reactions

As you develop your understanding of this, share them merely as hypotheses. Avoid making the patient feel categorized or put in a box.

We’ll discuss investigating both intermediate beliefs and core beliefs.

Identifying Intermediate Beliefs

Given the same core belief, people may have different intermediate beliefs.

  • Say two patients have the same core belief, “I’m not good enough to accomplish my goals.” One patient may have the intermediate belief, “I should work as hard as I can at all times.” Another patient may have a very different belief, “I should lower my goals so I don’t get disappointed.”
  • Why do different intermediate beliefs arise? This can be because of genetic predisposition or environmental cues early in life.

How to identify intermediate beliefs:

  • The patient may voice the belief, as an automatic thought or when directly asked about...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Homework Assignments

Homework gives the patient opportunities to practice new behaviors and thinking. Patients who regularly complete homework show better progress.

Principles of Homework

Explain the rationale of homework, often in terms of improving patient affect or in proven efficacy.

Sessions should typically begin with review of homework completion, outcomes from doing homework, and appropriateness of tasks for future homework.

  • If the patient didn’t complete the homework, you should take blame for assigning too difficult an assignment or not explaining it well enough.

Set homework collaboratively. Get patient buy-in for homework assignment.

Lean toward making homework assignments easy and able to be completed than too hard. Aim for 90-100% likelihood of completion.

  • Ask the patient for their own estimation of how likely they are to complete, from 0-100%.
  • It’s better to remove an assignment than to set the habit of not completing an assignment.

Make homework no-lose—even if the patient doesn’t complete homework, she’ll discover thoughts that prevent her from making progress.

Homework Assignment...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Additional Techniques and Troubleshooting

CBT is customized to the patient, and different techniques may have different efficacy between patients. Here are more techniques mentioned in the book to draw upon:

  • When making decisions and choosing between options, ask the patient to make a list of advantages and disadvantages of each option. Score each entry to help make the ultimate decision.
  • Refocusing: when the patient’s attention veers to distracting automatic thoughts, rather than evaluating their automatic thoughts, instead refocus attention on the task at hand.
  • Distraction: get the patient’s mind off of automatic thoughts.
    • Ask what has worked in the past.
    • Suggestions: watch TV, go for a walk, email a friend, clean her desk, or browse the web.
  • Exposure: keep engaging the object of concern until the negative affect dissipates.
    • Patients often have safety behaviors, such as avoiding thinking about the subject to ward off anxiety, but which perpetuate the fundamental problem.
  • Graded task assignments: reaching the ultimate task (such as landing a new job) may be intimidating. Break the task into its constituent stepwise tasks to make each step seem less...

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Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Summary Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond Guide Planning for Termination and Relapse Prevention

CBT is intended to be fixed in duration, teaching the patient to be her own therapist. Make this known to the patient at the beginning, to prepare for the expectation.

To help ease the transition, help the patient attribute positive changes to herself, not to the therapist or external causes.

  • The patient needs to develop confidence about her ability to solve her own problems.
  • The patient is the one who puts in the work, so the therapist should get only a portion of credit.

As sessions near the end, patients should anticipate setbacks and anticipate how they will respond.

  • Chart out the patient’s likely affect over time. This can look like the southern border of the...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Principles of Mental Disorders
  • Exercise: Consider Your Automatic Thoughts
  • Principles of Treatment
  • The CBT Session Structure
  • Identifying Automatic Thoughts and Problem Solving
  • Exercise: Question Your Own Automatic Thoughts
  • Identifying Deeper Beliefs
  • Homework Assignments
  • Additional Techniques and Troubleshooting
  • Planning for Termination and Relapse Prevention