A cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy is that an individual’s interpretation of an event determines how they feel and behave. We all experience a stream of ‘automatic thoughts’ of which, much of the time, we may be unaware or which we accept unquestioningly. Cognitive restructuring describes the process by which individuals can be trained to change the way that they think – one traditional approach is that thoughts can be examined for bias or inaccuracy and then replaced with more balanced thoughts.
Before thoughts can be examined or challenged they must be ‘caught’ – they must be noticed and distinguished from events and feelings. The Catching Your Thoughts worksheet is designed to help children and adolescents notice and catch their automatic thoughts. With practice individuals can be helped to develop a habit of asking “What went through my mind?”, and “What am I thinking?”, and “What am I predicting?”. Individuals who are new to CBT may need initially need help and practice to distinguish between their thoughts and feelings.
“We know that ‘what we think and do affects the way we feel’ and so if we want to change the way we feel then it is important that we are aware of what we are thinking. One good way of catching our thoughts is to use a thought record. I want you to keep a record of your difficult feelings over the next week using the Catching Your Thoughts form. When you notice that you are feeling a strong feeling write down where you were and what you were doing in the ‘Situation’ column. Write down what you were feeling in the ‘Feelings’ column. Examples of feelings are happy, sad, afraid, angry, embarrassed. In the ‘Thoughts’ column write down what was going through your mind when you started to feel that way. When we say thoughts we really mean anything that goes through your mind. Thoughts can be in the form of words, images, or memories. For example, the feeling might be ‘angry’ and the thought that goes with that feeling might be ‘they are trying to hurt me on purpose’.”
- Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford.