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Is It Impossible To Control Your Thoughts? CBT Disagrees.

CBT blurbiesChange your thoughts, change your life.

Sure, self-help gurus push this glib-sounding phrase in order to sell books and workshops. But many people, including some even a few therapists, believe it’s bunk.

What a shame.

That’s because many of us do have the power to change our unwanted thoughts (or at least our relationship to our unwanted thoughts) and one therapy method is designed to do just that. 

Even if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious *mental illness, it may be possible to control your unwanted thoughts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

A foundation treatment technique of CBT is Cognitive Restructuring (sometimes called Reframing).

Cognitive Restructuring is a specific, active, guided process of identifying and replacing unwanted, disruptive, or harmful thoughts and beliefs with choice-driven, positive, constructive thoughts and beliefs.

The use of the CBT approach, especially cognitive restructuring,  and so on, can be moderately to highly effective in the treatment of addiction, depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADD, dissociative disorders, and other emotional and mental illnesses. CBT may be used in conjunction with other treatment methods and techniques, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (a type of CBT), Motivational Interviewing, medication, and so on to improve outcomes.


Aside from its action-oriented approach to therapy, where the therapist and patient team up to identify goals and create a plan to work through problems, one of the most beneficial aspects of CBT is the “homework” patients are given. Your therapist may give you homework directly or may suggest some online homework formats or books, such as those for anxiety, depression, and so on.

Much of the CBT homework is centered on identifying, shifting, and transforming your negative thoughts and beliefs. There are 168 hours in a week. Because the average patient sees a clinician for one hour a week, Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (and many other therapists) believe that homework is essential to recovery.


If you are highly motivated, and your problem isn’t too serious or all-encompassing, you might want to try programs or books likes these on your own. If you are moderately motivated, CBT with a trained and experienced therapist will most likely be beneficial. If you aren’t motivated at all, but are mandated to therapy for any reason, a skilled therapist will employ techniques that can help motivate and even inspire you.

If you’ve read Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On, and follow the Therapy Soup blog, you’ll find that many of the approaches we recommend for successful therapy involve CBT and related therapies. Learning how to be in charge of your thoughts and not a passive receiver of them is one of the most liberating changes you can make.


*Not in all cases.


Is It Impossible To Control Your Thoughts? CBT Disagrees.

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Is It Impossible To Control Your Thoughts? CBT Disagrees.. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from


Last updated: 17 Feb 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Feb 2014
Published on All rights reserved.