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Dysfunctional Thought Record

The Dysfunctional Thought Record is a worksheet to record and challenge dysfunctional thoughts. It encourages clients to identify the involvement of any cognitive biases – unhelpful thinking styles - which are operating.

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Thought records are cognitive restructuring techniques which encourage balanced thinking. The Dysfunctional Thought Record is a style of thought record which encourages identification of any cognitive biases / cognitive errors which are operating. It can be useful to use this form in combination with the Cognitive Distortions – Unhelpful Thinking Styles (Extended) information sheet - clients are encouraged to identify in which ways their specific cognitions are distorted. This thought record can also be used to identify characteristic ways in which an individual's cognitive styles are distored.

Therapist Guidance

  1. Start by cueing the client's memory for the dysfunctional thought by directing them to think about where & when it occurred. Record this in the first and second columns ('date & time' and 'situation').
  2. The cue for completing a thought record is usually a sudden change in emotion. In the fourth column record the emotion felt and it's subjective intensity.
  3. In the third column record the automatic thought. Helpful prompts are "what were you thinking about when you started to feel that way?" or "what was going through your mind as you started to feel that way?". Automatic thoughts can be images as well as thoughts. In the case of an image ask the client to reflect on what the image meant (e.g. if the client has an image of themself frozen to the spot it may have idiosyncratic meanings ranging such as "I'm weak").
  4. If there are multiple NATs, select one to work on.
  5. In the fifth column identify whether a cognitive bias was in operation. It may be helpful to train the client in the use of the Cognitive Distortions – Unhelpful Thinking Styles (Extended) worksheet.
  6. In the sixth column write an alternative to the original automatic thought which is not subject to the original bias. For example, if the original thought bias was personalization (e.g. "I'm pathetic") the client might be encouraged to use less perjorative language. The new thought may be considerably longer than the original thoughts. It may not necessarily be positive, the aim is to counter bias in the original thought.
  7. In the final column record the outcome. This might be a change in emotional state, or a resolution to act in a different way.