person sitting on a rock in water, sunset in the background

A very common modality in psychotherapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT, which asks clients to identify the Negative Automatic Thoughts, NAT, that seem to pop up as they become triggered by an event. A therapist will often ask the client questions such as “is that thought true? How do you feel/act when you think that thought?” and then the client and therapist will work together to form a new, more balanced belief.

For example, if you see that your brother has called and your first thought is “Great, what’s this about? He always calls to pick a fight”, how do you feel at that moment? Are you likely to answer the phone? If so, what do you think your tone would be? Through a reframe activity, you may start to realize that your brother sometimes challenges you, and it may lead to an argument, but you have had a lot of really positive (or very short) conversations, both in person and over the phone. How does that feel? Could you answer the call with a more curious tone?

If you notice that you are using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’, it might be a good indication that there’s a distortion present, and a reframed, more balanced thought may bring more emotion regulation.

Is it easy to challenge negative thoughts? The short answer - with practice. The good news is that there are several resources that can guide you through various exercises and give you a good idea of what questions or challenges to use when you understand that your negative automatic thoughts are influencing your emotions and behaviour. 

  • Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself:
  • What is the evidence for this thought? 
  • What is the evidence against this thought? 
  • Now that I have examined all of the evidence, how realistic is my automatic thought? (you can even rate this thought on a scale from 1-10)
  • What would a more comfortable thought be in this situation?

(adapted from An Introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 2nd ed, Westbrook, Kennerley, and Kirk, 2011)

There are so many ways to explore our thoughts, and reframing is an effective and widely studied method that works for many. Alternatively, it may feel better to some to accept those negative thoughts, and let them fade into the background as opposed to challenging them.

In the next post, we can take a look at some Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT techniques that you might like to try!

Katie Mastromattei

Katie Mastromattei

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