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Unhelpful Thinking Styles / Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are characteristic thinking styles associated with emotional disturbance. Cognitive theory argues that biased thinking and biased information processing affects what an individual perceives. This leads to biased decision-making, biased emotion, and biased action. Distorted thinking in depression was identified by Aaron Beck in 1960's, and David Burns published a more detailed analysis in Feeling Good (1980). This Unhelpful Thinking Styles information sheet gives details of 10 common cognitive distortions. Some clients find the label of 'unhelpful thinking styles' as less perjorative than 'cognitive distortions' or 'thinking errors'.

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout - use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point - use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool - improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource - use as a learning tool during training
  • Beck, A. T. (1964). Thinking and depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 10, 561-571. harvard.edu
  • Burns, D. (1980). Feeling good: the new mood therapy. New York: Morrow



Unhelpful Thinking Styles / Cognitive Distortions