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CBT - Challenging Self Defeating Thoughts


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Changing Self Defeating Thoughts – A Key CBT Technique

Evidence suggests that CBT is currently the most effective ‘talking therapy’ and as such it is recommended by the government for the majority of mental health problems. CBT is based on the premise that our thoughts determine the way that we feel and how we behave and aims to improve our experience of life (i. e. how we feel and respond to situations) by changing the thoughts that underlie this.

The first step is to identify the thought that is triggering the uncomfortable feeling and/or self defeating behaviour. Thoughts take the form of words or sentences and should be recorded in the first person, present tense e. g. “I am never going to pass my exam because I am stupid”.

The second step is to identify all the evidence that supports the thought e. g. (1) I didn’t do very well in my exams last year, (2) I often struggle to understand what is being said in lectures, (3) I have to work so much harder than all my peers.

The third step is to identify all the evidence that contradicts the thought e. g. (1) I didn’t get tops marks in my exams last year but I did pass, (2) The subject I am studying is difficult, I did well to get on the course, (3) I know at least 3 people you failed their last essay which I passed.

The fourth step is to identify ‘thinking errors’, or information that you may be ignoring or filtering out e. g. focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive; ignoring the fact that the course is hard and you did well to get a place.

Finally, highlight to yourself the impact that thinking in this way has on your feelings (e. g. makes me feel anxious and depressed) and behaviour (e. g. makes me avoid revising and therefore increases the changes of me not doing well) and then taking into account all of the above and formulate an alternative thought e. g. “If I use my time revising rather than worrying and procrastinating, I stand a chance of passing, I did last year so there is no reason to suspect that I won’t this year”.

It is important to then record the outcome of engaging in the behaviour that arises out of this new thought and using it to support similar self improving thoughts in the future e. g. “If I stay calm, have faith in myself and work hard, I can achieve what I set out to achieve”.

If applied correctly this key CBT technique will help you to change the way that you think and therefore the way that you feel and behave. However, over the years thoughts become entrenched and so you many need

to achieve this.


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