What is Cognitive Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 January 2020
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Cognitive psychotherapy is a form of mental health treatment that combines aspects of both the cognitive and psychoanalytical theories of psychology. The cognitive theory of psychology rests on the notion that psychological disorders are often caused by faulty thought processes, while the central belief of the psychoanalytical theory is that human actions are largely due to unconscious thoughts and circumstances that occurred during childhood. The primary goal of cognitive psychotherapy is to figure out how a client’s way of thinking may be negatively affecting his or her mental health or behavior.

The basis of cognitive psychotherapy is the concept of automatic thoughts, or the first interpretations that occur in a person’s mind after an event. A person with depression or other mental health issues may incorrectly interpret the intent of conversations with other people or the severity of situations. His or her automatic thoughts may tend to be constantly and irrationally negative without considering any alternative scenarios. Cognitive psychotherapists generally believe that these incorrect thought patterns are often due to situations that happened when a person was a child, resulting in what is referred to as dysfunctional assumptions. For example, if a child only receives affection when he or she performs a task or receives an award, the child may form the dysfunctional assumption that he or she is not inherently lovable unless he or she accomplishes things.


Traditional psychotherapy is usually somewhat unstructured because a psychotherapist typically wants a client to discuss any thoughts or memories, regardless of how random they may seem, so the psychotherapist can help interpret them. Cognitive psychotherapy tends to be more organized because the psychotherapist wants to focus mainly on the precise thoughts that occur during specific situations only. The psychotherapist may have the client detail his thinking process after what is perceived as a negative situation. This is so the psychotherapist can help the client realize if he or she is being irrational or overly negative.

Cognitive psychotherapy can be implemented for a wide variety of mental conditions, from depression to anger management, but tends to be more effective in people who can objectively examine their own behaviors and thoughts. Supporters of this form of mental health treatment believe most people can improve their mental states and become happier if they learn to transform their ways of thinking. It can also be used in combination with medications to help treat any chemical imbalances that may contribute to mental illnesses.



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