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Cognitive restructuring: this is this therapy technique

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Cognitive restructuring is one of those concepts that, through the practice of psychotherapy, have passed to be part of the great pillars of the cognitivist current, the dominant paradigm in current psychology. Since the psychologist Albert ellis established its foundations in the mid-twentieth century, this resource has become one of the great pillars of psychological intervention based on the cognitivist paradigm, the dominant one today in day.

In this article we will see what exactly is cognitive restructuring and how it helps map the logic that psychotherapy has to follow. But, to answer this question we must first understand what cognitive schemas are.

  • Related article: "The 10 most used cognitive-behavioral techniques"

The concept of cognitive schema

When it comes to understanding the complexity of the human mind, most psychologists use a concept known as the cognitive schema. A cognitive schema is a set of beliefs, concepts and "mental images" that, through their way of relating to each other, create a system that shapes the way we interpret reality and makes us more likely to act in ways that other.

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Thus, the cognitive schemes on which the idea of ​​cognitive restructuring is based are, basically, the structure of our mentality, the way in which we have learned to shape what we think and say, and what leads us to behave as we normally do of our own free will.

Keep in mind, however, that a cognitive schema is a useful representation of what is actually going on in our brains. As a representation that is, does not accurately capture the functioning of human thoughtRather, it simplifies it so that we can make hypotheses and predictions about how we act and how we interpret things.

In reality, in mental processes the content of our thoughts is not something separate from the neural "circuits" by which these pass, which means that the concept of cognitive schema does not perfectly capture the dynamic and changing character of our brain.

  • Related article: "Cognitive schemas: how is our thinking organized?"

Cognitive restructuring: a definition

As we have seen, mental processes, although they have a certain stability (otherwise we could not speak of personality or cognitive schemes), it is also very changeable and malleable. Cognitive restructuring takes advantage of this duality to offer a useful psychological intervention strategy for cognitive-behavioral therapies.

Specifically, what is proposed is that, through cognitive restructuring, we are able to modify our way of thinking and interpreting things in favor of the objective that is established in the therapy. Many times, a good part of the problems that patients have in psychotherapy consultations have to do with the impossibility of look for alternative explanations about what happens, while the ideas from which it starts lead to a dead end causing from anxiety, sadness, etc.

Thus, cognitive restructuring can be defined as a strategy used to improve the chances that psychotherapy patients modify their cognitive schemas in the most adaptive way possible. That is, it helps us not to be simple recipients of environmental influences, but rather to be capable of shaping our mentality and habits in a way that makes us happy and allows us to live best.

  • You may be interested: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"

Mental flexibility is nothing new

The idea of ​​changing the structural aspects of our thinking for the sake of our happiness may sound too good to be true for some people. The belief that after childhood and adolescence individuals do not change has become very widespread. However, even if we do not realize it, there are many situations that show us otherwise.

Even outside the framework of psychotherapy and cognitive restructuring, there are contexts in which we are able to act in a way that does not define us. In fact, although it may not seem like it, our mindset is constantly changing: the simple fact of being in certain contexts and not in others can cause us to have very different opinions and beliefs than those that would normally define us, in a matter of minutes.

For example, social pressure can lead us to perform acts that we would never have said we would be capable of carrying out, as shown by the different repetitions of the milgram experiment. Similarly, the existence of sects based on fundamentalism shows us that all kinds of people are capable of leaving their family aside to dedicate all their efforts to make their religious community prosper.

In these cases, not only people's actions change: their thoughts also change, which become relatively consistent with what is done, at least for a time.

In short, although sometimes we have the feeling that inside people's heads there is a totally stable way of thinking and that shows us the essence of that particular individual, this is a delusion. What happens is that normally people try not to expose themselves to situations that lead them to confront their fundamental beliefs, with which these changes in cognitive schemes are usually slow and go unnoticed.

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

The difficult part of psychotherapy sessions

As we have seen, in special situations our actions may not correspond to the type of ideas and beliefs that we would say define us. The challenge is, yes, in making these changes relatively stable and permanent instead of appearing only when we are in that particular type of situation, and in make them point towards the goals pursued with therapy, and not in any of the others.

Cognitive restructuring is just that, an effort to make our mental processes take different channels than usual, and all this in a targeted way, without letting chance determine what kind of changes will take place in the attitudes and beliefs of the people.

On the other hand, it must also be clear that cognitive restructuring has to be framed in a program that seeks to change not only beliefs, the "theory" of what a person believe. You also have to modify the practice, the one that the person does in their day to day. In fact, if something shows us reality, as we have seen, it is that ideas and beliefs are not born spontaneously in our head, rather, they are part of our dynamics of interactions with the environment, the situations we go through. Our actions modify our environment as much as our surroundings modify the mental processes that guide them.
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