Cognitive restructuring: what does this therapeutic strategy look like?

Cognitive restructuring is one of those concepts which, through the practice of psychotherapy, are now part of the main pillars of the cognitive current, the dominant paradigm of current psychology. Since the psychologist Albert Ellis laid his foundations in the mid-twentieth century, this resource has become one of the great pillars of psychological intervention based on the cognitive paradigm, dominant today.

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

    The concept of cognitive schema

    When it comes to understanding the complexity of the human mind, most psychologists use a concept known as a cognitive schema. A cognitive schema is a set of beliefs, concepts, and “mental images” which, by the way they relate to each other, create a system that shapes the way we interpret reality and makes us more susceptible to understanding. to act. In one way or another .

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

    It should be noted, however, that a cognitive schema is a useful representation of what is really going on in our brain. As a representation that is, it does not accurately capture how human thought worksBut this simplifies it so that it is possible for us to make assumptions and predictions about how we act and how we interpret things.

    In fact, in mental processes, the content of our thoughts is not something separate from the neural “circuits” through which they pass, which means that the concept of cognitive pattern does not fully capture the dynamic and changing character of our brain.

      Cognitive restructuring: a definition

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

      More specifically, what is raised is that, through cognitive restructuring, we are able to change the way we think and interpret things in favor of the goal set in therapy. Many times many of the problems that patients face during psychotherapy consultations are related to the inability to seek alternative explanations for what is going on, when the ideas from which one starts lead to a dead end causing anxiety, sadness. , etc.

      Thus, cognitive restructuring can be defined as a strategy used to improve the chances that psychotherapy patients modify their cognitive patterns in the most adaptive way possible. In other words, it helps us not to be mere beneficiaries of environmental influences, but to be able to shape our mindset and habits in a way that makes us happy and allows us to live better.

        Mental flexibility is nothing new

        To some people, the idea of ​​changing the structural aspects of our thinking for our happiness may seem too good to be true. The belief that people passed through childhood and adolescence do not change has grown widely. However, even if we don’t realize it, there are plenty of situations that prove otherwise.

        Even outside of the framework of psychotherapy and cognitive restructuring, there are contexts in which we are able to act in ways that do not define us. In fact, even if it doesn’t look like him, our state of mind is constantly changing: Just being in some contexts and not in others can lead 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 do things we never said we could do, as the different repetitions of Milgram’s experiment show. Likewise, the existence of sects based on fundamentalism shows us that all kinds of people are able to put aside their families to devote all their efforts to making their religious community prosper.

        In these cases, not only do people’s actions change: their thoughts also change, they become relatively consistent with what is being done, At least for a while.

        In short, although we sometimes have the feeling that there is a totally stable way of thinking in people’s heads that shows us the essence of that particular individual, it is an illusion. What happens is that people generally try not to expose themselves to situations that lead them to confront their fundamental beliefsSo these changes in cognitive patterns are often slow and go unnoticed.

          The difficult part of psychotherapy sessions

          As we have seen, in particular situations our actions may not correspond to the type of ideas and beliefs that we would say we define ourselves. The challenge, however, is to make these changes relatively stable and permanent rather than appearing only when we are in this particular type of situation, and make them target the goals of the therapy, And not in any of the others.

          Cognitive restructuring is just that, an effort to take our mental processes along different paths than usual, and all in a targeted manner, without it being chance that determines the type of changes that will occur in attitudes. and people’s beliefs.

          On the other hand, it should also be clear that cognitive restructuring needs to be framed in a program that seeks to change not only beliefs, the “theory” of what a person believes. It is also necessary to change the practice, which the person does on a daily basis. In fact, if anything shows us the reality, as we have seen, it is that ideas and beliefs do not arise spontaneously in our headBut 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 environment modifies the mental processes that guide them.

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