What is Cognitive Restructuring?

Cognitive Restructuring is a Core Part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

woman talking to therapist
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Cognitive restructuring is an essential part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT, an intensive form of therapy that requires significant effort from the patient with assistance from his or her therapist, is considered to be on of the most effective treatment options for mental illnesses like social anxiety.

What is Cognitive Restructuring?

Cognitive Restructuring is a process within CBT that identifies and disputes irrational thoughts and negative automatic thoughts.

Cognitive restructuring relies on several different methods such as thought recording, disputation and guided questioning.  The ultimate goal is to replace anxiety-inducing thoughts with more rational and positive ideas to empower you to live a richer and fuller life. 

Just like any bad habit, the theory behind cognitive restructuring is that negative thoughts can be eliminated through dedication and practice. It tests ideas for their accuracy and questions if they are reality or just your own flawed perception. 

What Does Cognitive Restructuring Entail?

Cognitive restructuring is an intensive process. While some people opt to do it alone, it is usually recommended that you work with a therapist who specializes in both social anxiety and cognitive behavioral therapy; if done incorrectly, it can actually harm your treatment, so professional assistance is important. 

There are several steps to cognitive restructuring:

  1. Record: Record your thoughts in a journal, including all negative thoughts you have about yourself or self-limiting ideas. Also, note the situation at hand, such as was it a large party with people you didn't know? Or was it a public presentation in front of coworkers? Write down what the implications were. If you were convinced you were going to fail, did that make you more nervous or did you refuse to attend the event?
  1. Analyze: With the help of your therapist, review the notes you have written to determine if certain patterns exist. You may find that you are okay at work settings, but get anxious at parties where you don't know anyone at all. You may find that public speaking is what scares you, but not mingling with strangers. Analyzing these triggers can help you and your therapist create a strategy to combat your unique form of social anxiety. 
  2. Dispute: Review the thoughts about yourself and critique them for accuracy. If you wrote down "I always fail at everything", think about times when you did succeed in your social or professional life. Once you've identified a few examples, you have successfully disproven that idea you wrote down.
  3. Replace: Replace those disproven negative thoughts with accurate and positive affirmations. Instead of "I always screw up", replace that thought with "I'm a very strong researcher" or "I'm a great listener."

Cognitive restructuring is not an easy skill to learn, even with the help of a healthcare provider.

Particularly if you have social anxiety, you likely have spent years thinking negatively about yourself, worsening your anxiety and nervousness. However, cognitive restructuring does get easier with practice. Continue working on it for your different fears with the help of your therapist or doctor. Over time, cognitive restructuring and cognitive behavioral therapy can make a significant impact to lessen your social anxiety. 


Mills, H., Reiss, N., Dombeck, M. "Cognitive Restructuring". Mental Help, 2008. 

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