Written by Gitika Sharma on February 17, 2024

38 Types of CBT Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a versatile and effective form of therapy that offers a range of techniques to address various mental health issues. Each technique has its unique approach and benefits. In this guide, we'll dive deeper into the different types of CBT techniques, providing a clearer understanding of how they can help improve mental well-being.

Cognitive Restructuring or Reframing

Cognitive restructuring, also known as reframing, involves identifying and challenging negative or irrational thoughts. By examining the evidence for and against these thoughts, individuals learn to reframe them into more positive and realistic perspectives. This technique is particularly useful for addressing patterns of thinking that contribute to anxiety, depression, and other emotional difficulties.

Example: Let's say someone is feeling anxious about an upcoming job interview. They might have the thought, "I'm going to mess up and embarrass myself." Through cognitive restructuring, they would first identify this thought and then challenge it by asking themselves questions like:

  • What evidence do I have that supports this thought?
  • What evidence do I have that contradicts this thought?
  • Is there a more balanced or realistic way to think about this situation?

They might then reframe the thought to something like, "While I might feel nervous, I have prepared well and have valuable skills to offer. I can handle this interview." This new thought is more balanced and can help reduce anxiety.

Behavioral Activation

Behavioral activation is a technique that helps individuals overcome depression by encouraging them to engage in activities that bring pleasure or a sense of accomplishment. This approach is based on the idea that depression often leads to a decrease in rewarding activities, which in turn worsens the depression.

Example: Imagine someone who used to enjoy painting but has stopped due to feeling depressed. Through behavioral activation, they would be encouraged to schedule time for painting, even if they don't initially feel like it. By gradually reintroducing this activity into their routine, they can start to experience the pleasure and satisfaction it once brought them, helping to lift their mood.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is designed to help individuals confront their fears in a controlled and safe environment. By gradually facing the situations or objects they fear, they can learn to reduce their anxiety and develop coping mechanisms.

Example: Consider someone with a fear of spiders. In exposure therapy, they might start by looking at pictures of spiders, then progress to watching videos, and eventually, they might be able to be in the same room as a spider. Over time, this exposure can help reduce the intense fear response.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines mindfulness techniques with cognitive therapy to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. This approach is especially effective for preventing relapse in depression.

Example: A person practicing MBCT might focus on their breath to anchor themselves in the present moment when they notice their mind wandering into negative thought patterns. By recognizing these patterns without judgment, they can gently redirect their attention back to the present, reducing the impact of negative thoughts.

Problem-Solving Therapy

Problem-solving therapy is a practical approach that teaches individuals to identify, analyze, and solve problems that contribute to their emotional distress. This technique empowers people to take control of their situations and find effective solutions.

Example: If someone is feeling overwhelmed by financial difficulties, problem-solving therapy would guide them to break down the problem into manageable parts, brainstorm potential solutions, evaluate the pros and cons of each, and then implement the most viable solution.

Stress Inoculation Training

Stress inoculation training is a technique that prepares individuals to cope with stress by teaching them various coping skills and strategies. This approach helps people build resilience and manage stress more effectively.

Example: In stress inoculation training, a person might learn relaxation techniques, positive self-talk, and problem-solving skills to handle stressful situations, such as public speaking or a job interview, with greater confidence and calmness.

Assertiveness Training

Assertiveness training focuses on helping individuals communicate their needs and desires confidently and respectfully. This technique is beneficial for those who struggle with assertiveness and want to improve their interpersonal skills.

Example: A person who tends to avoid conflict might learn through assertiveness training how to express their opinions and set boundaries in a clear and respectful manner, leading to more satisfying and balanced relationships.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, are used in CBT to help individuals reduce stress and anxiety. These techniques promote physical and mental relaxation, providing a sense of calm and well-being.

Example: Someone experiencing anxiety might use deep breathing exercises to slow down their breathing and heart rate, helping them feel more centered and relaxed during moments of stress.

Activity Scheduling

Activity scheduling involves planning and participating in positive activities to improve mood and increase engagement. This technique is especially helpful for individuals with depression who may have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Example: A person with depression might schedule a daily walk in nature, coffee with a friend, or a hobby they enjoy. By committing to these activities, they can experience a sense of accomplishment and pleasure, which can help lift their mood.

Thought Records

Thought records are a tool used in CBT to help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts. By writing down their thoughts, emotions, and the evidence for and against their negative beliefs, individuals can develop a more balanced perspective.

Example: If someone is feeling unworthy, they might keep a thought record where they jot down situations that trigger this feeling, their automatic thoughts, and then challenge these thoughts by looking for evidence that contradicts them. This process can help them see that their belief of unworthiness is not fully supported by facts.

Graded Exposure

Graded exposure is a technique used to gradually expose individuals to their fears in a controlled and step-by-step manner. This approach helps reduce avoidance behaviors and anxiety associated with specific fears or phobias.

Example: For someone with social anxiety, graded exposure might start with imagining a social situation, then progress to writing about it, talking about it with a therapist, and eventually attending a small social gathering. Each step is designed to build confidence and reduce anxiety.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training is a component of CBT that focuses on improving communication and interpersonal skills. This technique is beneficial for individuals who struggle with social interactions and want to build more meaningful connections with others.

Example: A person with difficulty making friends might learn through social skills training how to initiate conversations, listen actively, and express empathy, leading to more positive and rewarding social experiences.

Guided Discovery

Guided discovery is a technique where the therapist helps the individual explore their thoughts and feelings in a structured way to gain new insights and perspectives. This approach encourages self-reflection and personal growth.

Example: In guided discovery, a therapist might ask a series of open-ended questions to help a person struggling with low self-esteem uncover the underlying beliefs that contribute to their negative self-image. Through this process, the individual can gain a deeper understanding of themselves and work towards building a more positive self-concept.

Socratic Questioning

Socratic questioning is a technique used in CBT to help individuals examine the validity and logic of their thoughts. By asking probing questions, individuals are encouraged to think more critically and objectively about their beliefs and assumptions.

Example: If someone believes that they must be perfect to be accepted, a therapist might use Socratic questioning to challenge this belief by asking, "Is it realistic to expect perfection from yourself or others?" or "What evidence do you have that only perfection leads to acceptance?" This can help the individual see that their belief may be unrealistic and that acceptance can come from being authentic rather than perfect.

Goal Setting

Goal setting in CBT involves collaboratively identifying specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that are aligned with the individual's values and aspirations. This technique helps provide direction and motivation for therapy and personal development.

Example: A person who wants to improve their physical health might set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes, three times a week. By setting this specific and achievable goal, they can track their progress and feel a sense of accomplishment as they work towards their larger objective of better health.

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments are tasks given by the therapist for the individual to complete between therapy sessions. These assignments are designed to reinforce the skills learned in therapy and to apply them in real-life situations.

Example: A therapist might assign homework to someone with anxiety to practice deep breathing exercises whenever they feel anxious during the week. This allows the individual to practice and integrate the coping skill into their daily life, making it more effective in managing anxiety.


Self-monitoring involves keeping track of one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to gain insight into patterns and triggers. This technique helps individuals become more aware of their internal experiences and how they relate to their actions.

Example: A person trying to manage anger might keep a journal to record incidents when they feel angry, noting what triggered the anger, how they responded, and how they felt afterwards. This self-monitoring can help them identify patterns and work on strategies to respond differently in the future.


Decatastrophizing is a technique used to challenge and reduce catastrophic thinking, where individuals expect the worst possible outcome in a situation. By questioning the likelihood and reality of these negative predictions, individuals can develop a more balanced perspective.

Example: If someone is worried about failing an exam, decatastrophizing would involve asking questions like, "What is the worst that could happen if I fail?" and "How likely is it that I will actually fail?" This can help reduce the anxiety associated with catastrophic thinking.

Challenging Cognitive Distortions

Challenging cognitive distortions involves identifying and questioning irrational or exaggerated thought patterns that contribute to negative emotions. By recognizing and disputing these distortions, individuals can develop more realistic and balanced thinking.

Example: A person who frequently engages in "all-or-nothing" thinking might learn to challenge this distortion by acknowledging shades of gray in situations rather than seeing things in black and white. This can help reduce feelings of failure or inadequacy.

Imagery Rescripting

Imagery rescripting is a technique used to change the way individuals remember and perceive past traumatic or distressing events. By creating a new, more empowering narrative, individuals can reduce the emotional impact of these memories.

Example: Someone haunted by a memory of being bullied might use imagery rescripting to imagine themselves standing up to the bully or receiving support from others, transforming the memory into a source of strength rather than fear.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion is a technique that helps individuals distance themselves from their thoughts, seeing them as just thoughts rather than truths. This can reduce the impact of negative thoughts and promote a more mindful and present-focused way of living.

Example: A person who constantly thinks "I'm a failure" might practice cognitive defusion by saying to themselves, "I'm having the thought that I'm a failure." This subtle shift helps them recognize that the thought is just a mental event, not a fact.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) techniques focus on accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment and committing to actions that align with personal values. This approach helps individuals live a more meaningful and fulfilling life, even in the presence of pain or discomfort.

Example: Someone struggling with chronic pain might use ACT techniques to accept the pain as a part of their experience while committing to activities that bring them joy and fulfillment, such as spending time with loved ones or pursuing a hobby.

Behavioral Experiments

Behavioral experiments are used to test the validity of negative beliefs by setting up experiments in real-life situations. This technique helps individuals gather evidence to challenge and modify their beliefs based on actual experiences.

Example: A person who believes they are socially awkward might set up a behavioral experiment to start a conversation with a stranger. If the conversation goes well, it provides evidence that contradicts their belief, helping to reduce their social anxiety.

Thought Stopping

Thought stopping is a technique used to interrupt and reduce the frequency of unwanted or intrusive thoughts. By consciously saying "stop" or using a visual cue, individuals can disrupt the thought and redirect their attention to something more positive or neutral.

Example: Someone plagued by repetitive negative thoughts might use thought stopping by visualizing a stop sign whenever the thought arises, followed by shifting their focus to a calming image or activity.

Coping Cards

Coping cards are small, portable reminders that contain positive affirmations, coping strategies, or motivational messages. They can be used in moments of distress to provide comfort and guidance.

Example: A person with anxiety might carry a coping card that reads, "I have faced challenges before and come through them. I can handle this too." This can provide a quick source of reassurance and support when feeling anxious.

Role Playing

Role playing is a technique used to practice new behaviors or responses in a safe and controlled environment. This can help individuals build confidence and prepare for real-life situations.

Example: In therapy, a person who struggles with assertiveness might role-play a scenario where they need to express their needs or set boundaries. This practice can help them develop the skills and confidence to be more assertive in their daily life.

Contingency Management

Contingency management is a technique that uses rewards or consequences to encourage positive behavior changes. This approach is often used in addiction treatment to reinforce abstinence and healthy behaviors.

Example: A person trying to quit smoking might use contingency management by rewarding themselves with a small treat or privilege for each day they remain smoke-free. This positive reinforcement can motivate them to continue their efforts.

Motivational Interviewing Techniques

Motivational interviewing techniques are used to explore and resolve ambivalence about change. By expressing empathy and helping individuals identify their own reasons for change, this approach can enhance motivation and commitment to positive behaviors.

Example: A therapist might use motivational interviewing with someone who is hesitant to seek treatment for substance abuse. By exploring the pros and cons of change and highlighting the individual's values and goals, the therapist can help the person find their own motivation to pursue recovery.

Self-Compassion Exercises

Self-compassion exercises involve treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially during difficult times. This approach can help individuals cultivate a more supportive and compassionate relationship with themselves.

Example: A person who is critical of themselves might practice self-compassion by writing a letter to themselves from the perspective of a compassionate friend, offering understanding and encouragement for their struggles.


Psychoeducation involves providing information and education about mental health conditions and treatment options. This can help individuals understand their experiences, reduce stigma, and make informed decisions about their care.

Example: A therapist might provide psychoeducation to a person with bipolar disorder, explaining the nature of the condition, its symptoms, and the importance of medication adherence and lifestyle management for maintaining stability.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. This technique can help individuals cultivate awareness and acceptance of their thoughts and feelings, reducing stress and promoting emotional well-being.

Example: Someone experiencing stress might practice mindfulness meditation by focusing on their breath, noticing when their mind wanders, and gently bringing their attention back to their breathing. This can help them stay grounded and calm in the midst of stress.

Compassionate Mind Training

Compassionate mind training is an approach that focuses on developing compassion for oneself and others. This technique can help individuals manage feelings of shame, self-criticism, and insecurity by fostering a sense of warmth and understanding.

Example: A person who struggles with self-criticism might practice compassionate mind training by imagining a compassionate figure who offers them unconditional support and kindness, helping them to internalize these compassionate qualities.

Emotional Regulation Techniques

Emotional regulation techniques are strategies used to manage and modulate intense emotions. These techniques can help individuals respond to their emotions in healthier ways, reducing the impact of negative emotions on their well-being.

Example: Someone who experiences intense anger might use emotional regulation techniques such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or taking a time-out to cool down before responding to a situation.

Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

Interpersonal effectiveness skills involve learning to communicate effectively and assertively, while maintaining self-respect and healthy relationships. These skills can help individuals navigate social interactions and conflicts more successfully.

Example: A person who struggles with assertiveness might learn interpersonal effectiveness skills such as using "I" statements, expressing their needs clearly, and setting boundaries without being aggressive or passive.

Distress Tolerance Skills

Distress tolerance skills are techniques used to cope with distressing emotions and situations without resorting to harmful behaviors. These skills can help individuals withstand emotional pain and find healthier ways to soothe themselves.

Example: Someone who self-harms might learn distress tolerance skills such as holding ice cubes, taking a warm bath, or engaging in intense exercise to manage their emotional pain in a safer way.

Schema Therapy Techniques

Schema therapy techniques are used to identify and change deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and behavior, known as schemas, that are causing problems in an individual's life. This approach can help individuals break free from negative life patterns and develop healthier ways of relating to themselves and others.

Example: A person with a "failure" schema might work with their therapist to identify the origins of this belief, challenge its validity, and develop new, more adaptive schemas that support their sense of competence and worth.

Narrative Therapy Techniques

Narrative therapy techniques involve exploring and rewriting the stories that individuals tell about their lives. This approach can help individuals gain a new perspective on their experiences and see themselves as the authors of their own stories.

Example: Someone who sees themselves as a victim of circumstances might use narrative therapy techniques to explore alternative narratives where they are the hero of their own story, overcoming challenges and growing stronger.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

Relapse prevention strategies are techniques used to maintain progress and prevent setbacks in therapy. These strategies can help individuals anticipate and manage potential triggers, maintain healthy habits, and seek support when needed.

Example: A person in recovery from addiction might use relapse prevention strategies such as avoiding high-risk situations, practicing coping skills, and staying connected with a support network to maintain their sobriety.


The types of CBT techniques offer a diverse toolkit for addressing a wide range of mental health challenges. By understanding and applying these techniques, you can embark on a path to greater mental well-being, equipped with the skills to navigate life's ups and downs. Remember, the journey to mental health is a personal one, and finding the right combination of techniques that work for you is key to lasting change.

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