Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Workshop
Step #1: Recording Your Situation, Automatic Thoughts, and Feelings
Below you see an Automatic Thought Record for Helen with only the first several columns filled out. In the first column, notice that she has briefly described the situation we saw earlier. She has also recorded some of her Automatic Thoughts, the Thinking Styles that characterize her thoughts, and her feelings. Essentially, she has taken some of the information in the cognitive triangle at the beginning of the chapter and put it into her Automatic Thought Record.
It is common for people to need a little tweaking in how they provide information so they can use it later on when we get to the specific CBT strategies. Here are a few guidelines for how to respond to the first several columns.
Time, Date: Be as specific as possible about the time and date. Stay away from entries like, "morning," or "when I got home." Sometimes, the actual time is key in understanding aspects of the situation.
Situation: Write a brief statement, no more than a few sentences, that summarizes the situation. It is not uncommon for people to be tempted to describe their situations in great detail, as if they are making a case to justify their reactions. In doing this they tend to include thoughts and feelings, when those should be saved for their own columns. All you need to do here is write a simple description that helps you remember the situation later on.
Automatic Thought/s: Writing your thoughts is actually a little trickier than it looks. It takes a little practice to write them in ways in which you can respond effectively to them later on. Consider the following suggestions:
- Write one thought at a time. Sometimes people put several thoughts together in the same statement. It will be easier to respond to them later if you break them up into single statements. This can also illustrate for you the fact that it's possible to have a multitude of thoughts all at the same time around a single event.
- Don't write questions. Reframe them as statements, even if the statement feels a little strong. For example, "Why does he do this to me?" should be written as something like "He doesn't respect me," or "He makes me angry," or "He shouldn't do this."
- Stay away from exclamatory statements like, "Oh darn!" or "Crap!" or "Oh great!" Instead, identify the underlying thought expressed by the exclamatory statement. It is better, for instance, to write something like "I can't handle this!" or "This always happens to me!" or "She doesn't like me anymore!"
- Save feelings for the "Feeling/s" column. Thoughts are not feelings and feelings are not thoughts. It is common for people to include feeling words in their thought statements. For instance, "Things are hopeless now," could be written as a thought like, "Things will never get better," and "hopelessness" could be entered into the "Feeling/s" column.
- Automatic Thoughts can be images that come to mind. Some people tend to think more in images than with words. For instance, instead of noticing a thought like, "My boss will yell at me," a visual person might vividly imagine his or her boss yelling, glaring and waving a finger. For the Automatic Thought/s column, you can go ahead and describe the image, but also try to write out what the image means to you in a thought or statement form.
Feeling/s: Entries in this column will generally be one or two words at most. If you are not used to recognizing your feelings or putting words to them, you might find this challenging at first. The previous page of this workshop has a feeling word list you can refer to. Make sure you write down what feelings you experience for each separate thought. It may be only one feeling, or it could be several. Notice that for her first thought, "He is angry with me," Helen has recorded two feelings ("sad" and "scared").