Leone Centre Glossary

Black-and-White Thinking

Black-and-White Thinking

Black-and-white thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking, is a common cognitive distortion often addressed in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This type of thinking involves viewing situations, people, or oneself in extremes, such as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, ‘success’ or ‘failure’. It simplifies complex realities, leading to an unrealistic perception of reality and potential emotional distress.

All-or-Nothing Mindset

Black-and-white thinking can contribute to mental health challenges by promoting an all-or-nothing mindset. This rigid way of thinking can lead to heightened emotional responses and difficulty in managing everyday stressors. Recognising this cognitive distortion is a vital step in CBT, as it helps individuals understand and adapt these thought patterns.

Cognitive Distortions Explained

In CBT, black-and-white thinking is defined as a cognitive distortion that affects how individuals perceive reality. It can cause individuals to overlook the nuanced nature of situations and people, leading to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. By addressing this thinking pattern, CBT aims to foster more balanced and realistic perspectives.

Techniques Used in CBT

CBT employs several techniques to counter black-and-white thinking:

  1. Cognitive Restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging extreme thoughts and replacing them with more balanced alternatives.
  2. Mindfulness Practices: These help individuals become more aware of their thought patterns and develop a non-judgmental attitude towards them.
  3. Behavioural Experiments: These are designed to test the validity of extreme thoughts through real-life experiences.


What is black-and-white thinking?
Black-and-white thinking is a cognitive distortion where individuals see situations in binary terms, such as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’.
How does black-and-white thinking affect mental health?
This type of thinking can lead to unrealistic expectations and increased emotional distress, impacting overall mental well-being.
How can CBT help with black-and-white thinking?
CBT helps by identifying and challenging extreme thoughts, which promotes more balanced and realistic perspectives.


  1. Beck, A. T. (2011). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. Guilford Press.
  2. Burns, D. D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook. Plume.
  3. Leahy, R. L. (2003). Cognitive Therapy Techniques: A Practitioner’s Guide. Guilford Press.
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision