Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Workshop
Keeping an Automatic Thought Record (ATR)
An important part of CBT is keeping Automatic Thought Records. An Automatic Thought record (see below) is a one-page chart that allows you to capture key pieces of information to which you can apply CBT strategies. The purpose of keeping this record is to help you catch your automatic thoughts, recognize the feelings that go along with them, and work on balancing out your thinking towards modifying your mood.
The Automatic Thought Record has six columns within which you are asked to enter certain information such as Date and Time, the Situation, your Automatic Thoughts, and so forth. There are also some bulleted prompts to help you remember the specific details you need. It may look like there are a lot of things to do on this chart, but we'll take it a step at a time. It will take a little patience, and perhaps some fumbling through from time to time, but you can do it!
You can download your own Automatic Thought Record as a .pdf file.
Doing this well takes some patience and practice, but if you stick with it you will be very pleasantly surprised at the results you can get. It is common for people to initially express doubt that this technique will work for them. They may say things like, "How can this possibly help me to feel better?" or they otherwise express disbelief that it is possible to change their moods at all. However, people who work with this technique get to the point where they become quite adept at catching their Automatic Thoughts, responding to them, and modifying their mood without even needing to use the record any longer.
We will work step by step through how to properly use your Automatic Thought Record. Notice at the top that you are prompted to fill one out when you notice that your mood has become worse. When you do, it is helpful to ask yourself, "What am I thinking and feeling right now?" You want to capture what is going through your mind just as soon as you can and get it down onto paper. If you wait hours or days to fill out your Automatic Thought Record, you will lose precious information as the details of the moment will certainly fade away.