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Avoiding distorting thoughts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy


Dear Ask A Therapist,

I am considering CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I think I am ready, but I have always been reserved about trying new things, even though it could mean improvement in my mental health. What questions should I be asking myself as I move forward?

Dear Ready and Willing,

Change is difficult, especially when beginning mental health treatment that may mean changing your lifestyle, thought processes and interactions with others. Good for you for taking the initial step toward change by committing to starting treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great form of treatment that has been around for many years and has shown to be effective for many mental health diagnoses and symptoms.

CBT evaluates and challenges one’s thoughts that may be seen as negative (known as thought distortions) and reframes them to more realistic thoughts; thus changing feelings and behaviors associated with these thoughts.

We all experience thought distortions from time to time. A very common thought distortion is catastrophizing or automatically assuming the worst possible outcome.

For example, your boss asks to speak with you and you think that you are going to be fired. Or you don’t perform well on an exam and think that you have now ruined your chance of getting a good grade in the class for the entire year. This distortion may cause feelings of anxiety, panic or worthlessness and may impact your behavior negatively in relation to communicating with others.

There are some questions you could ask yourself to challenge catastrophic thoughts; What evidence do you have to support this thought? What evidence do you have that does not support this thought?

After evaluating the evidence consider whether this original thought is accurate. Is there now a more accurate thought? You will likely find that you have more evidence to support that you are in fact a good employee based on your recent praise and performance evaluation. You may come to a new thought that your boss has asked to talk to you likely about a project or task, thus lessening your anxiety and not yelling at your spouse.

These thought distortions become problematic and a sign of a mental health disorder when they are numerous, paired with emotional distress and are impacting your functioning in relationships or performance at work or school.

Ask yourself, why do I want to change?

Follow up with: What is the best reason for you to change? What is the best reason for you not to change? What is the worst reason for you to change? What is the worst reason for you not to change? This will help gauge how ready you are to commit to therapy.

Then ask: How am I going to change? How will I know when I’m seeing progress?

Again, kudos to you for wanting to better your mental health, and I hope this information is helpful.

Adrienne Sines, LPC, NCC, is a bilingual intake program manager at Community Reach Center in Thornton.

Submit a question to Ask A Therapist at AskATherapist@CommunityReachCenter.org.


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