Cognitive Behavioural Theory

The main concept of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is that changing one’s thinking can transform emotions and behaviour. The theory postulates that people have the will and drive towards self-actualization, but their thought processes can stand in the way of achieving their goals. The theory focuses on helping the client identify, evaluate, and modify dysfunctional thinking (Seligman, 2001). It is thought that if people have realistic thoughts about their strengths and weaknesses and take pride in their accomplishments, they will feel happier and have more stability in their lives. Hence, CBT teaches people to assess their thoughts and behaviour, not themselves (Seligman, 2001).

Furthermore the theory postulates that childhood traumas and difficulties may also contribute to dysfunctional thinking. Therefore, it is a combination of biological origin and life experiences that lead one to think about the self in a detrimental manner (Thompson et al, 2004).

Therapy uses the presenting emotions to help identify irrational beliefs that the client holds. It is thought that disappointments are particularly useful to determine self-destructive emotions. Making these irrational beliefs conscious and actively disputing them is thought to reduce emotional disturbances (Culhune, & Watson, 2003). Therefore, it is the goal of CBT to help clients move beyond feeling by transforming their irrational beliefs into consciously articulated ideas that can be challenged in therapy.


Culhune, S.E., & Watson, P.J. (2003). Alexithymia, irrational beliefs, and the rational-emotive explanation of emotional disturbance. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, 21(1), 57-72.

Seligman, L. (2001). Systems, Strategies and Skills of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Thompson, C.L., Rudolph, L.B., & Henderson, D. (2004). Counselling Children (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. .