7 CBT Activities You Can Use in School Counseling 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Use these activities on repeat in your individual counseling sessions.

As a school counselor or psychologist, it is necessary to have activities that are ready to go that can be used in individual counseling for a variety of referral reasons. Luckily, CBT activities are an excellent fit for school counselors looking for practical approaches. Here are 7 of my go-to CBT strategies to use in counseling.

1. Think-Feel-Act Triangle

The Think-Feel-Act Triangle is a classic CBT activity that you can use repeatedly. It is a simple visual that helps students break apart their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and begin to see how those are connected.

When using it, have the student write down a difficult situation in the center of the triangle. At each corner of the triangle, write down what the student thought, felt, and how they acted.

To show them how these three elements are connected, change one and talk about how that might change the others. For example, if you change a negative thought to one that is more realistic, you may then feel different, and then you may act differently.

Think Feel Act Triangle
CBT Think Feel Act Diamond

2. Feelings Thermometers

Feelings thermometers are great for helping students begin to understand the following concepts:

  • Feelings vary in intensity.
  • Our feelings effect how we react.
  • Our reactions shouldn’t be stronger than our feelings.
  • Sometimes we need help to handle strong feelings.  
  • We can use strategies to handle strong feelings.

Feelings thermometers or scales are an essential tool in your counseling office. I can't think of something else I reached for or referenced more often with students. They are reusable,

A Feelings Thermometer is the Ultimate Counseling Tool

Add language to the sides of the thermometer to help students better understand (i.e., Big problem, medium problem, small problem, and no problem).

CBT Activities for School Counseling

3. CBT Activity: Reframing

Reframing is perfect when you are working with students who are prone to thinking mistakes. First, have them write down the negative thoughts and associated feelings and actions. Then, have them come up with 2-3 alternative thoughts. You can also come up with evidence to support these alternative thoughts and discuss how you would feel if you thought these instead.

A simple way to come up with an alternative thought is the Ugh, But strategy.

"Ugh, I didn't come in first in the race, but I improved my best time."

CBT Strategy: Ugh, But

Lots of the students you see for individual or group counseling struggle with some sort of negative thinking. Those negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and negative actions. We

Counseling Techniques: Reframing Negative Thoughts

4. KICK Plans

One type of reframing is KICK plans, which are great when you are working with students who are anxious or worried. It gives them a step-by-step process to restructure their negative thinking. 

  1. Knowing I’m Nervous: recognize that they are feeling nervous, worried, or some other negative emotion.
  2. Icky Thoughts: Identify the negative thoughts they are having that may be causing or influencing their feelings.
  3. Calm Thoughts: Identify an alternative thought that is more realistic or more positive.
  4. Keep Practicing: Practice identifying negative thoughts and finding alternatives.

In every classroom there are students with anxiety. Counselors and teachers can support these students with a simple school-based intervention that will take them step by step through managing their

Help Students with Anxiety with KICK Plans

5. Thought Records

Thought trackers are an excellent tool for students to begin to spot negative thoughts that they have. For example, students who struggle with anxiety may think negatively about themselves and why something happened. They may believe they aren't good enough or no one likes them.

Thought trackers will let you break those real examples down and also understand how the student perceives situations.

CBT Thought Tracker

I'm often asked how to incorporate CBT activities (cognitive behavioral therapy) in school counseling and if it even fits a school counselor's role. Are school counselors even allowed to use

CBT Activities for Kids: How to Explain Thoughts and Feelings

6. CBT Maps

A CBT Map is a more detailed and sequential version of the Think Feel Act map. Students can see how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors occur after a triggering event. Then, think about how the rules will affect the consequences of their actions. It is excellent for problem-solving with students after they make a poor choice to help them find an alternate path. You can also use the Problem - Choices - Consequences - Solutions Tool pictured below to problem solve.

Go through a situation and see where changes could be made.

CBT Problem Solving

7. Three Questions

When students make thinking mistakes, push them to find facts or evidence for what they believe. Thinking errors can affect how students feel and then how they act. Teaching them to stop and think to make sure their thoughts are true can be a helpful strategy for changing negative behaviors. Have them answer these three questions.

  • Question 1: What are the facts? This question helps students directly challenge a negative thought and think about it more closely. 
  • Question 2: What other facts tell you this might not be true? This question helps students consider if other facts may have been ignored.
  • Question 3: What if it does happen? This question helps students understand if the negative outcome is as bad as they think.
3 Questions Positive Thinking Strategies

Get Started with CBT Activities

CBT activities are a perfect match for school counseling, and the seven tools listed above can be used repeatedly across students referred to you for different reasons. Start with something simple like the Feelings Thermometer or the Think-Feel-Act Triangle.

Looking for more? Dig into the resources below or read these posts on CBT Interventions.

Helpful Resources

CBT Counseling Bundle

CBT Bundle

CBT activities for kids to help them understand their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Students will learn to identify negative thinking, change behaviors, and problem solve.

CBT Worksheets

CBT Worksheets

Printable and digital CBT worksheets covering understanding the size of feelings, spotting and challenging negative thinking and problem solving.

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ABOUT LAURA
I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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