Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises

Cognitive behavioral therapy (commonly referred to as CBT) seems to always be in the news, with virtually every new study on psychology focused on CBT and its effectiveness at treating a different psychological issue. CBT is widely recognized as the most cutting-edge, research-supported treatment for psychological problems and disorders. It represents the apex of modern scientific knowledge of the way the mind and emotions work. Numerous cognitive behavioral therapy exercises have been developed and tested by researchers all over the world to find the more effective, lasting solutions to life’s thorniest problems. Everything from anxiety and depression to ADHD and socials skills deficits have been the subject of CBT intervention and research. With every new study that is published, cognitive behavioral therapy exercises are validated as the highest standard of care in psychotherapy today.

What is CBT?

CBT provides a simple way of understanding challenging situations and problematic reactions to them. Cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes three main components implicated in psychological problems:  thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By breaking down difficult feelings into these component parts, it becomes very clear where and how to intervene when an issue arises. If a particular negative thought seems to be causing a chain reaction of negative emotion and behavior, the best solution may be to reexamine that thought. If a behavioral pattern seems responsible, it’s likely a new behavioral response to the situation would be helpful.

Often, all three components are interwoven throughout difficult problems and feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises are designed to intervene on all three components simultaneously. For instance, when uncontrollable worry is the problem, CBT exercises can help people to identify more effective and grounded thoughts, which lessens anxiety. In turn, reduced anxiety makes it easier to engage in skillful behavior to actively address the triggering problematic situation.

Below is a list of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises common to a number of different CBT treatments:

Cognitive Restructuring: Cognitive restructuring is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise designed to help people examine unhelpful thinking patterns and devise new ways of reacting to problematic situations. Cognitive restructuring often involves keeping a thought record, which is a way of tracking dysfunctional automatic thoughts, and devising adaptive alternative responses.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises: Cognitive Restructuring

Activity Scheduling: Activity scheduling is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise that helps people engage in behaviors they ordinarily would avoid, due to depression, anxiety, or other obstacles. The intervention involves identifying a rewarding low-frequency behavior, and finding time throughout the week to schedule the behavior to increase its frequency. It is often employed in treatment for depression, as a way of re-introducing rewarding behaviors into people’s routines. While seemingly simple, it is a core component of Behavioral Activation, the most effective empirically-supported treatment for clinical depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises: Activity Scheduling

Graded Exposure: Exposure is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise designed to reduce anxiety and fear through repeated contact with what is feared. This has been to shown to be among the most effective treatments that exists for any psychological problem. The underlying theory is that avoidance of things we fear results in increased fear and anxiety. By systematically approaching what you might normally avoid, a significant and lasting reduction in anxiety takes place.

Successive Approximation: Successive approximation is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise that helps people tackle difficult or overwhelming goals. By systematically breaking large tasks into smaller steps, or by performing a task similar to the goal, but less difficult, people are able to gain mastery over the skills needed to achieve the larger goal. 

Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise that helps people disengage from harmful ruminating or obsessing, learning to connect to the present moment. Mindfulness originally comes from Buddhist meditation and is the subject of a significant amount of new research on effective treatments for psychological problems. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises: Mindfulness Meditation

Skills Training: Skills Training is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise designed to remedy skills deficits, and works through modeling, direct instruction, and role-plays. The most common subjects of skills training are social skills training, assertiveness training, and communication training

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises: Social Skills Training

Validating Difficult People

Problem Solving: Problem Solving is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise to help people take an active role in finding solutions to problems. Chronic mood problems or repeated disappointment can result in people taking a passive role when difficult situations arise. By teaching people effective problem solving strategies, they are able to regain control and make the best of difficult situations. 

Relaxation Breathing Training: Relaxation training is a cognitive behavioral therapy exercise designed to help people reduce physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, dizziness, etc. By reducing the body’s anxious arousal, people are able to think more clearly, thus increasing feelings of comfort and further decreasing anxiety symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises: Relaxation Training

Relaxation Breathing Exercise

For more information about each of these interventions, visit the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques pages.