Teen CBT: Learning the Thinking, Feeling, and Behaving Connection

Teens who experience mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or the mood swings of Bipolar Disorder, can have symptoms of confused and dysfunctional thinking. However, this sort of thinking can lead to unhealthy feelings and to risky or dysfunctional behavior. For instance, if a teen wasn’t able to meet a teacher’s expectations by not completing an assignment. As a result, the teen has the thought, “I am worthless.” This might lead to feeling shameful and perhaps to drug use, self-harm, or a worsening depression. With cognitive behavioral therapy, we can help change our thought patterns, and thus our actions.

CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Adolescents develop distorted thinking for a variety of reasons. Unhealthy thinking might be evident among the behavior of their parents or other family members. In other words, teens might see the evidence of unhealthy thought patterns around them. Certain thinking patterns might also develop because of a need to feel a sense of control or to justify certain behavior. Unhealthy thinking might also develop as a result of not knowing other ways to cope with circumstances and the feelings that those circumstances invoke.

CBT is short for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT essentially aims to change behavior by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. This successful form of therapy emphasizes the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. More importantly, it attempts to identify the way that certain thoughts contribute to the unique problems of an adolescent’s life. By changing the thought pattern, both feelings and behavior change, which can result in a transformed life.

Below are the three domains of CBT and how they are connected:

  • Thoughts: The thinking that goes on inside is the cognition domain and refers to all that happens inwardly, such as thoughts, images, memories, dreams, beliefs, attitudes, and where attention goes. All of these can contribute to negative thinking.
  • Feelings: This includes emotional and physical feelings and how a teen might understand and cope with them. Emotions can cause symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, and eating changes.
  • Behavior: This domain includes the way in which thoughts and feelings might make a situation worse. Such as avoiding certain activities that would help to improve mood. It might also include the behavior that only leads to worsening mood, feelings, and thoughts, such as ruminating or berating oneself.

Positive vs. Negative Thoughts 

The way one responds to circumstances in life can have an influence on mood and feelings and thoughts. For instance, if Timothy was let go from his job after 14 years, he could either experience depressive thoughts, such as thinking that they no longer needed him or that he was letting his family down. Of course, this in turn would trigger certain feelings such as depression, discomfort, and hopelessness. And this in turn might lead to avoiding friends and family or activities he used to enjoy.

However, he might see it as an opportunity to make a change in his life. He might have a positive thought about all the skills he has acquired over the years and how he can apply them elsewhere. As a result, he might feel optimistic, excited, and motivated, and he might start behaving in ways to acquire that new opportunity. Such as networking, planning for the future, and building a new career.

The difference in this example began in the way that Timothy inwardly responded to his circumstances. CBT would assist Timothy in finding the thoughts that might have led to depression or anxiety and change those towards positive ones in order to change his life.

Because of the success of CBT, it is increasingly being used with adolescents, and especially with troubled youth. It is widely used to treat a range of problems including teen eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. CBT has proven to be an effective method of treatment for these problems.


It’s a form of therapy that many psychologists and therapists are familiar with and use in individual therapy. In a professional therapeutic environment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be an essential ingredient in the healthy life of your teen, facilitating mental wellbeing, reducing anxiety, minimizing risky behavior, and preventing drug use.



Thomson, B. & Broadway-Horner, M. (2013). Managing depression with CBT for dummies. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.