Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a
Personal Practice


by Bobby Andrews, B.A.

...

Praktis & Bloom curates current disciplines to include in your personal practice, and this is one of the best out there.

In this article you can expect to find out why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a recommended discipline for your personal practice.  After that, we’ll go a few steps further and show you the crux of CBT, and how you can get started integrating it.   

Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in your personal practice.

The main reason you should implement CBT into your personal practice boils down to your brain.  Or, more specifically, the mental processes connected to your brain - known as "cognition".  A complete personal practice includes a purposeful self-regulation of mind, body, and soul.  CBT is a direct assault on distorted thinking that causes stress, and unhappiness.  It’s a brilliant discipline for regulating the mind.

A personal practice is just that - personal.  It takes precious time, and considerable effort to properly commit yourself to the various disciplines that comprise your practice.  There are three salient reasons why CBT fits well into a practice with that level of commitment.

  1. Access: CBT can be self led.

  2. Flexibility:  it is relatively easy to integrate on a daily basis, or cycle intermittently.  It can be used as a sole practice, or in tandem with other disciplines (ie. CBT + exercise, or meditation).

  3. Prevention:  CBT keeps our cognitive processes working in our favor by detecting and correcting distorted thinking - doing this routinely mitigates larger problems from developing - “nipping it in the bud”.

A common response is to question the usefulness of a discipline such as this.  We are educated, intelligent, solve problems in our jobs, and deal with people all the time … “why would I need this?  I’m fine.” Yet, despite that education and all the effort in life one fact remains.  Humans all work the same way.  We are more alike than different.  There is a universality in the human condition that no one is above, and it’s no more apparent than in the mind.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques help individuals challenge their patterns and beliefs and replace errors in thinking such as overgeneralizing, magnifying negatives, minimizing positives and catastrophizing with more realistic and effective thoughts, thus decreasing emotional distress and self-defeating behavior.

A full personal practice addresses the human condition which we often break down to mind and body, or mind, body and soul - depending on your beliefs about metaphysics.  One major front of self regulation in your practice is that of the mind, and its particular cognitive processes that are distorted.  Adopting CBT can help you root out those cognitive distortions, and lead a happier, fuller life.   

Emotional control - that you didn’t know you had.

What are these cognitive distortions actually?  How are they affecting me?  Why should I implement CBT into my personal practice?  How?

What we love about CBT is that it’s common sense.  It simply addresses the source of a lot of human suffering - the mind.  Thinking soundly may seem like a simple enough task but in reality we are all challenged daily.  The list of cognitive distortions shows how insidious faulty thinking is, and should raise your willingness to implement a practice that addresses your mind.  Do you know anyone who hasn’t catastrophized?  Or, “musterbated” (ie. “should”)?  The fact is, so many of us are walking around with minds that are working against us - causing us, and our loved ones, to deal with stress that is avoidable.  Why wait until you have a serious problem before addressing cognitive distortions?    

It’s not positive thinking - it’s being reasonable.

Labeling CBT as positive thinking is a natural tendency for those skeptical about any self regulation of the mind.  It’s easy to be skeptical.  The fact is, CBT is not positive thinking.  It’s a scientifically backed therapy that has gained a lot of traction in modern society because of it’s successfulness and usability.  A whole host of psychological problems are being addressed regularly by CBT:

  • general health problems

  • mood

  • anger

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • relationships

  • habits, etc …

That said, we don’t see CBT as a purely prescriptive discipline.  As mentioned before, common sense says using it regularly will help prevent the onset of these major psychological issues.

Implementing CBT into a personal practice

A complete personal practice includes self regulation of the complete human being: mind, body, and soul.  CBT is a discipline that can be used in your practice to directly regulate your mind.  Everyone is in a different situation, and ultimately must decide how to implement their own practice.  That said, we make the following basic recommendation about CBT:

  1. Do it once - without further ado follow a program from beginning to end to complete the full therapy, and invest in yourself some serious skills for managing thinking processes and the correlated emotions,

  2. Repeat periodically - it never hurts to prevent major problems before they take root, but you may also wish to time a course in CBT with difficulties that arise along your life journey.

Then next section will cover some of the best self led programs in CBT, and reveal great resources for further research.

Getting started:  the best self led CBT programs and resources.

We’ve curated some of the best resources available in CBT that work well with a self led practice.   The rising popularity of CBT in the health industry has led to a surge of related information that can be overwhelming to a new comer, and that’s where we come in.  Our curated list is broken down into a few basic mediums:  online, mobile, and print.  For each medium we give our top recommendation of the best paid, and free versions available.  Take the time to explore our recommendations and act on those.  As well, if you’re the type of person who wants to explore further before committing then take a look at our recommended list of books for further immersion.  

Congratulations on taking an important step in your personal practice!

The crux of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an extremely useful tool because of its universality.  We all suffer from distorted thinking to some degree.  CBT helps us address that and improve our level of contentment, and general outcomes.   We’ll take a look at the crux of CBT next where we highlight the main cognitive distortions where you should ask yourself if you fall prey to any of these, and whether a pre-emptive approach to solving that distorted thinking using CBT might help you improve your bottom line. 

1.  Filtering - focusing entirely on negative elements of a situation, to the exclusion of the positive.  This also refers to the brain's tendency to filter out relevant information which does not conform to already held beliefs. (wiki)  

Example:  a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted. (psychcentral)

2. All-or-Nothing thinking (“black or white” thinking) - seeing things in black or white as opposed to shades of gray.  This leads to thinking in terms of false dilemmas.  Language used splits thinking into black and white, for example “always”, “never”, “every”.  External things are viewed as either “good or bad”, or “right or wrong” - there is no shade of gray, no middle ground. (wiki)

Example:  a mutual divorce is viewed by a friend of the wife as “absolutely good”, and the husband is viewed as “completely wrong”.  

3. Overgeneralization - making hasty generalizations from insufficient experiences and evidence. Broad conclusions are made based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. This leads to the expectancy that if something bad happens only once, it is expected to happen over and over again. (Wiki)

Example:  A person sees a single, unpleasant, event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. (psych central)

4. Jumping to conclusions - reaching negative conclusions from little (if any) evidence.

Example:  the world is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket because of political reform.

Sub-type:  Mind Reading - inferring another person's possible or probable thoughts (usually negative) from their behavior and non-verbal communication, usually about us.  This often leads to taking precautions against the worst suspected case without verifying its validity with the person.  We believe, without the other person saying so, we are able to divine their thoughts, and feelings.  (wiki)

Example:  A student assumes the readers of their paper have already made up their mind concerning its topic, and therefore writing the paper is a pointless exercise. (wiki)

Sub-type:  Fortune telling - predicting negative outcomes of events.

Example:  being convinced of failure before a test, when the student is in fact prepared.

5. Magnification, or Minimization - giving proportionally greater weight to a perceived failure, weakness or threat, or lesser weight to a perceived success, strength or opportunity, so the weight differs from that assigned to the event or thing by others. This is common enough in the normal population to popularize idioms such as "make a mountain out of a molehill". In depressed clients, often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negative characteristics understated.

Example:  a parent refuses to let their child play baseball because they exaggerate the risk of concussions, and go further by negating any social or developmental benefits the child would receive.  

Sub-type - Catastrophizing - Giving greater weight to the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or experiencing a situation as unbearable or impossible when it is just uncomfortable.

Example: A teenager is too afraid to start driver's training because he believes he would get himself into an accident.

6. Personalization - believing that everything others say, or do, is a direct personal reaction to you.   This cognitive distortion leads us to constantly compare ourselves to others (ie. style, smarts, attractiveness), and this distortion perpetuates inappropriate feelings.  (wiki, psych)

Example:  an acquaintance describes her beloved new shoes at a social event and you believe it’s directed at you because yours aren’t new.  

A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for.

Example: “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”  (psych)

7. Blaming - indiscriminately assigning blame for our pain and stress.  Typically, we blame others actions for our pain, but often that blame is quickly redirected at ourselves.  The stress exacerbates because the mind is focused on who or what to blame - this state of mind works against us.  

Example: a spouse blames their wife entirely for marital problems, and becomes increasingly stressed as he “proves” his case. (wiki)

8. Control fallacy - the belief that our feelings are controlled by something external to us, or vice-versa, that we have the control, and the responsibility, of others feelings.  When, in fact, the only responsibility, and control, we have is over our own thoughts and feelings.

Example:  If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as a helpless victim of fate. “I can’t help but be unhappy, until I get that raise at work nothing will change”.  The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?” (psych)

9. Fallacy of fairness - when we feel resentful because we think we know what is “fair”, but other people won’t agree with us, or life doesn’t conform to our belief.  Those who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative.  In reality, no person can judge what is “fair”, and those who do judge by their version of “fair” will be frustrated by things not working out in their favor, even though they think it should.

Example:  Jane is an intelligent person with many notable accomplishments.  Yet, despite her scholarship, she was highly disturbed talking with her peers in a conference.  Despite her passionate belief she knew what was “fair” in society they didn’t automatically agree with her, some even disagreed.  It wasn’t until Jane acknowledged the limits of the notion of “fair” that she felt less stressed, and perturbed.

10. “Shoulds” - the insidious habit of thinking in “should” statements.  We make these statements based on our own version of ironclad rules about how we and others “should” behave.  The result being that we feel angry at others for violating the rules, and guilty when we come up short ourselves.   Instead of seeing the anger and guilt as a result of applying “should” to everything, we see the offender as the cause of this stress - exacerbating the actual cognitive problem.  “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders.  

Example:  Jane was in average shape amongst her peers but had the belief that exercise was important.  Her self talk consisted of the following: “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.”  Because Jane didn’t exercise regularly she was feeling extremely guilty.  Instead of seeing that “should” was creating the guilt she simply attributed the feeling to being right about her “should” statement.  It wasn’t until Jane stopped saying she “should” that the tremendous amount of guilt was lifted, and she began to actually exercise because she wanted to.  

11. Emotional reasoning - the belief that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring then we must be stupid and boring. Assuming that our unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are leads us to a state of feeling hopeless — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”  The reality is that we must control our feelings, rather than the other way around.  

Example:  Jane was feeling sad because her spouse was angry at her, and acting belligerent.  She felt he must be right because she felt bad - even guilty.  

Example:  Jane was denied a promotion at work she was more than qualified for.   Her emotional reaction was to feel upset, particularly pathetic, because someone junior to her got the job.  Jane beat herself up emotionally for weeks believing she was pathetic because that’s how she felt.  

12. Fallacy of change -  the belief that we need to change people because our hopes for happiness depend entirely on them.  We may go so far as to demand that other people change to suit us, believing that if we just pressure or cajole them enough we’ll magically become happy.  Others, do nothing, say nothing, and brew with the “hope” that someone will change, or begin to change - even just a little - and that will be the beginning of their happiness.  

Example:  Jane hadn’t been happy for a couple of years and she didn’t know how to change it.  Her reaction was to put pressure on her husband to make more of an effort.  She was certain if he changed just a little that their relationship would improve and she would be happy.  She demanded it sometimes, and the thoughts possessed her minds at other times - adversely affecting her relationship.  It wasn’t until she stopped focusing on changing her husband that she began to work on actual improvements.   

13. Global labeling - the thinking error of generalizing one or two qualities into a negative global judgment (ie. non-sequitur).  This process is an extreme form of generalizing, and is also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in the context of a specific situation a person will attach a generalized, and unhealthy label to themselves - effectively blowing it out of context, or out of scope.

Example:  They may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a very specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”

14. Always being “right” - this cognitive distortion arises from prioritizing our desire to be “right” no matter what.  We become obsessed with being “right” so much that we are continually on trial to prove our opinions and actions are correct.  Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness.  In fact, being right is more important than the thoughts and feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion - even loved ones.

Example:  “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.”

15. Heaven’s reward fallacy - We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone (ie. heaven) is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.

Example:  Jane gave her brother a gift of money for his recent graduation.  She couldn’t help but bring up his lack gratitude when arguing with him on an unrelated matter.  Jane was certain that her sacrifice of money deserved some payoff and that she wasn’t getting it.  

16. Memories - people who engage in this cognitive distortion confuse the present tense with the past tense.   When current situations and events trigger upsetting memories they believe the danger is here and now - rather than in the past - causing them distress in the present context.  Allowing the memory to rule over the mind in the present context is the determining factor for the resulting negative feelings.

Example:     Jane was emotionally abused by her father during childhood.  She had learned to carry on but she remained quietly angry.  However, this changed when Jane was dealing with her own daughter.  Through the memory of her own childhood Jane projected her own despair into simple and common childhood problems her daughter was experiencing.  This took a toll on her and everyone around her.   

(*The following list of cognitive distortions are exact quotes or faithful reproductions of the following sources:  wikipedia.org, psychcentral.com, and beckinstitute.org.)



Beating the blues US
Beating the blues UK
Beating the blues NZ
Beating the Blues® is the most widely used and evidence-based online CBT programme for the treatment of depression/anxiety

Mood Gym
Online CBT Program, tailored for depression. Free. Offered by Australian National University

E-couch
A tailored online CBT program. Designed for everyday life.  Free. Offered by Australian National University.

Living Life to the Fullest
Online CBT program that aims to provide access to high quality, practical and user-friendly training in using CBT in everyday life. Free.  (The about page)

Antidepressant Skills Workbook
Online/print off/ listen to CBT workbook that is tailored for depression. Its free. Offered by  BC Mental Health

CBT based workbook for depressive symptoms
CBT - depression symptoms - (free) … recommended cbt self help by Dr. Alice Boyes

Intro self-help course in CBT
Free pdf workbook offered by getselfhelp.co.uk    More generalized approach for any distorted thinking.   The source website has lots of resources:   get self help site

CBT skills training workbook
Learning more about low mood, stress, anxiety and how CBT can help. free. offered by NHS in UK.  (looks very similar to the above entry)

My mind Apps - eCBT
MindApps enables people to take an active role in their own healthcare by providing readily available, cost-effective, science-based, mental health and wellness applications for the iPhone & iPod Touch, using the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are 3 different apps (CBT calm,  CBT mood, CBT trauma).

**Recommended as a ‘top 10’ app by psychcentral.com**. Each app is 99cents. Mac only.

iCouch CBT
CBT app with top ratings and recommended by wired, techcrunch, LA times, Inc.  The founding business’ main operation is online-based one-on-one therapy but they’ve developed the app for people who are not interested/not ‘ready’ for individual therapy. iCouch website  

iCBT
Based on the ‘feeling good handbook’ by David Burns. Highly rated.

Mind Shift App
An app designed to help people with anxiety, using principles of CBT. It can help you change how you think about anxiety. Rather than trying to avoid anxiety, you can make an important shift and face it.   MindShift will help you learn how to relax, develop more helpful ways of thinking, and identify active steps that will help you take charge of your anxiety. This app includes strategies to deal with everyday anxiety, as well as specific anxiety type tools. A free app designed for AnxietyBC.

Cognitive Diary CBT app
This app uses the tools of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to challenge irrational thinking. The cognitive diary helps you to determine some ways to challenge the irrational thinking.

The app provides a simple way of doing this by reviewing the history of your recorded events.

The app is produced by this organization -  Excel at Life website    - providing the public with tools and materials from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which can aid in the pursuit of personal growth as well as an adjunct to treatment for anxiety, depression, and other disorders. draws on clinical experience, scientific research, and training in the martial arts to create these tools and other materials which include articles, audios, and Android apps.

All of their apps are available as one purchase (for ad-free) for $8  Excel at life App