This involves helping the client to identify Automatic Thoughts (also known as Trigger Thoughts) that have a strong tendency to come into their head when challenging situations arise. Automatic Thoughts are usually negative and are characterised by cognitive biases that lead the person to interpret losses or impediments in highly negative ways that inhibit problem-solving or recovery
Automatic Thoughts can be classified according to specific types of biases or distortions such as catastrophising (‘This is a disaster’), over-generalising (‘This always happens’), personalising (‘It’s because she hates me’), mind-reading (‘She thinks I’m stupid)’, fortune-telling (‘It’s always going to be like this’), dichotomous or ‘all or nothing’ thinking (‘If my mother doesn’t want me to live with her then she must not care about me at all’), and systematically blaming others for everything. Full list of Automatic Thoughts
Three important types of unhelpful thinking styles involve making causal attributions that are internal, global, and/or stable.
Internal attributions involve self-blame and self-denigration e.g. ‘It’s my fault’.
Global attributions refer to conditions that are pervasive and affect all aspects of life e.g. ‘Its because I live in this useless family and this hopeless neighbourhood’.
Stable attributions refer to faults that are permanent and unchangeable e.g. ‘It’s because I’m stupid and I can’t learn’, ‘I’m never going to get out of this place’.
Certain types of automatic thoughts have been observed to frequently affect people with drug and alcohol problems e.g. ‘I need to use so that I don’t have to deal with this problem’, ‘I will feel empty and lonely if I don’t go out and get smashed with my friends tonight’, ‘I cannot cope if I can never use drugs again’, ‘Life is too painful without drugs’ (Ball, 2007; p115-116).
The practitioner can begin by pointing these thoughts out based on things that the client says during conversation. Clients should be encouraged to spend some time monitoring their thoughts and taking note of when particular types of negative automatic thoughts arise.
Techniques such as the thought record or thought diary can be used with young people who like to write and reflect on their own. This well known homework exercise is used to help people understand patterns of automatic thoughts that affect them regularly. Tracking thoughts and associated feelings and behaviours over time also reveals patterns of associations between particular thoughts and particular feelings and behaviours.
To be effective the thought record needs to be done systematically over a considerable period of time. This can be overly demanding for for some individuals so it is not appropriate for all young people.
Many interactive games and exercises are available in which young people can work in pairs or groups to explore thinking styles that they typically use to interpret challenging situations.
The material in C4iii is based on Riso & McBride, 2007 and Leahy, 2003 unless otherwise stated. The strategies of reframing or perspective taking and deconstructing the problem from solution-focused therapy are also based on the idea of unhelpful thinking styles.