How and Why Thoughts Change: Foundations of Cognitive Psychotherapy

How and Why Thoughts Change: Foundations of Cognitive Psychotherapy

How and Why Thoughts Change: Foundations of Cognitive Psychotherapy

How and Why Thoughts Change: Foundations of Cognitive Psychotherapy


Cognitive therapy, a core approach within a collection of psychotherapeutic techniques known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is fundamentally about changing peoples' thoughts - helping them overcome difficulties by recognizing and changing dysfunctional thinking styles. Among other strategies, it requires encouraging the development of skills for rehearsing new habits of thought, modifying biases in judging and interpreting social and emotional information, and for testing assumptions underlying dysfunctional and negative, distorted thinking. In How and Why Thoughts Change, Dr. Ian Evans deconstructs the nature of cognitive therapy by examining the cognitive element of CBT, that is, how and why thoughts change behavior and emotion. There are a number of different approaches to cognitive therapy, including the classic Beck approach, the late Albert Ellis's rational-emotive psychotherapy, Young's schema-focused therapy, and newer varieties such as mindfulness training, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and problem-solving strategies. Evans identifies the common principles underlying these methods, attempts to integrate them, and makes suggestions as to how our current cognitive therapies might be improved. He draws on a broad survey of contemporary research on basic cognitive processes and integrates these with therapeutic approaches. While it may seem obvious that how and what we think determines how and in what manner we behave, the relationship between thought and action is not a simple one. Evans addresses questions such as: What is the difference between a thought and a belief? How do we find the cause of a thought? And can it really be that thought causes behavior and emotion, or could it be the other way around? In a reader-friendly style that avoids jargon, this innovative book answers some pertinent questions about cognitive therapy in a way that clarifies exactly how and why thoughts change. Evans demonstrates that understanding these concepts is a linchpin to providing and improving therapy for clients.


Reber and Reber (2001), in their Dictionary of Psychology, had this to say about thinking:

As G. C. Oden put it, “thinking, broadly defined, is nearly all of psy-
chology; narrowly defined, it seems to be none of it.” Given the subtle
truth of this quip, we might be able to find a middle ground if we treat
the term as denoting, most generally, any covert cognitive or mental
manipulation of ideas, images, symbols, words, propositions, memo-
ries, concepts, percepts, beliefs or intentions; in short, as encompass-
ing all of the mental activities associated with concept-formation,
problem-solving, intellectual functioning, creativity, complex learn-
ing, memory, symbolic processing, [and] imagery, (p. 748)

Cognitive therapy, a core approach within that collection of psychotherapeutic techniques and tactics known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, is fundamentally about helping the client overcome personal difficulties by recognizing and changing maladaptive thinking in order to effect emotional and behavioral change. Among other strategies, it requires encouraging clients to develop skills for rehearsing new, more positive mental habits; to test assumptions underlying misattributions and unquestioned erroneous beliefs and implicit attitudes; to reconsider negative, distorted judgments; to come to recognize that negative feelings cannot and should not be avoided; and to reinterpret (“restructure”) memories of past emotional experiences.

Cognitive therapy, therefore, is primarily about changing people’s thoughts, both the content and the processes whereby content is most likely to become distorted. Cognitive therapy thus addresses both our conscious thoughts and ideas, of which we are aware and on which we can further reflect, as well as unconscious processes involved in thinking, of which we are and usually will remain unaware. Cognitive therapy might attempt to change a dominant thought (e.g., “I am a failure; I’ll never get a job”), as well as changing the . . .

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