Leone Centre Glossary

Behavioural Experiments

Behavioural Experiments in CBT

Behavioural experiments are key approaches in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), designed to test and challenge unhelpful beliefs and thoughts. This promotes personal insight and changes to thought patterns through experiential learning.

Understanding Behavioural Experiments

Behavioural experiments are structured activities individuals do to test the validity of their beliefs and assumptions. Unlike exposure therapy, which focuses on facing fears, behavioural experiments aim to collect evidence and promote cognitive restructuring.

Key Features and Benefits

  1. Insightful Learning: Encourages experiential learning and self-discovery.
  2. Cognitive Restructuring: Helps with challenging and modifying unhelpful thoughts.
  3. Flexibility: Can be tailored to individual needs and specific cognitive distortions.

Defining Behavioural Experiments

Behavioural experiments involve planned activities aimed at testing the accuracy of one’s thoughts and beliefs. They play a key role in identifying and challenging cognitive distortions.

Promoting Cognitive Change

These experiments promote a deeper understanding of the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. They help to change negative thought patterns through evidence-based testing.

How It Works

Implementation in Therapy

  1. Planning: Collaborative discussion to identify beliefs to be tested.
  2. Execution: Conducting the experiment in a real-life or imagined scenario.
  3. Reflection: Reviewing the outcomes to draw conclusions about the initial belief.


What is the main goal of behavioural experiments in CBT?
The main goal is to test and challenge unhelpful beliefs and assumptions through experiential learning.
How do behavioural experiments differ from exposure therapy?
While exposure therapy focuses on facing and reducing fear responses, behavioural experiments aim to test the validity of beliefs and assumptions.
Can behavioural experiments be used for all types of cognitive distortions?
Yes, they can be used to address a wide range of cognitive distortions, depending on the individual’s needs.


  1. Bennett-Levy, J., et al. (2004). Oxford Guide to Behavioural Experiments in Cognitive Therapy. Oxford University Press.
  2. Westbrook, D., Kennerley, H., & Kirk, J. (2011). An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications. Sage Publications.
  3. Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427-440.


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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision