I am in the business of thinking that it matters what you think. From the perspective of cognitive behavioral therapy – what we think, and how we distort our thinking is a critical component of the work in therapy. We skew thoughts by our perceptions. Learning to identify common distortions such as viewing the world in black and white terms, minimizing positive experiences while magnifying negative experiences, and emotional reasoning (I feel it, therefore it must be true) is the bulwark of the beginning sessions. Each person has a few personal favorite distortions, which are influenced by early history and personal choice. As one becomes comfortable naming common thought distortions, the thought starts to lose some of it’s power. Specifically the distorted thought can no longer automatically trigger a specific response. By naming the distortion, and slowing the stimulus-response cycle there becomes an opportunity for a pause.
In that moment of pause, there is excitement and a sense of possibility.The freedom from the automatic response is a part of what we are aiming for in therapy. People seek out therapy for the possibility to make different choices in their behavior. In cognitive behavioral therapy the second stage of inquiry is into what we call replacement statements. These are thoughts that run counter to the distortion. This replacement thought can function (with repetition and over time) to change the entire pattern of the stimulus-response cycle because the stimulus (undistorted thought) will change.
This process is nuanced, individual and complicated by a myriad of behaviors and thoughts, overlaid on the original distortion. These cycles can result in people feeling depressed, anxious, hopeless, fearful, and trapped. However, once the general concept is understood there is a generalizability to the effectiveness of the process. There are several books written for the lay person that discuss this work, including Feeling Good by David Burns, MD. I often recommend this to people I am working with as a text to help in learning this new skill.