Counseling Techniques-Changing Hot Thoughts

This counseling technique presents an alternative approach based on evidence gathering and analysis that provides a powerful weapon against automatic thoughts.

Gathering evidence on both sides of the question is crucial to reaching a clearer, more objective understanding of your experience.

Albert Ellis was the first to develop a method (rational-emotive therapy) to evaluate evidence for and against key beliefs. But by assuming that hot thoughts are always irrational, and focusing mostly on the evidence against them, his approach may not always feel objective. It also may alienate people who have solid evidence to support certain hot thoughts.

Padesky and Greenberger (1995), building on Beck and Ellis, developed the strategies for gathering and analyzing evidence used her. Padesky doesn't assume that hot thoughts are totally irrational, focusing instead on looking at all the evidence and working toward a balanced position.

Thought and Evidence Journal

Create a worksheet with columns. Use the following headings.

1. Situation-When, Where, Who, What Happened

2. Feelings-One Word Summary-Rate 0-100

3. Automatic Thoughts-What You Were Thinking and Feeling Just Prior to and During the Unpleasant Feeling

4. Evidence for Your Hot Thought

5. Evidence Against Your Hot Thought

6. Balanced or Alternative Thought (Circle possible action plan)

7. Re-rate Feelings 0-100

Step 1-Select a Hot Thoughtt

Choose a thought that impacted your mood either because of its power or frequency. Or choose several thoughts.

Step 2-Rate the thought's intensity 0-100 in column 2

Step 3-Tease out the hot thought that ocurred just prior to or during the unpleasant feeling and record it.Step 4-Identify evidence that supports your hot thought

This is where you get to write out the evidence that appears to support your hot thought.

However, this is not where you pout, go victim, record your feelings, assumptions, or unsupported beliefs.

This is the column for objective facts, what was said, what was done, how many times, and so on.

While it is important to stick with the facts, it is also important to acknowledge all the past and present evidence that supports and verifies your hot thought.

Step 5-Uncover Evidence Against Your Hot Thought.

You will probably find this to be the hardest part of the technique. While it is easy to uncover evidence for your hot thought, you may draw a blank when it comes to uncovering evidence against your hot thought.

If that is the case, here are 10 questions to use in uncovering evidence against your hot thought.

1. Is there an alternative interpretation of the situation, other than your hot thought?

2. Is the hot thought really accurate, or is it an overgeneralization?

3. Are here exceptions to the generalizations made by your hot thought?

4. Are there balancing realities that might soften negative aspects of the situation? This question helps you differentiate what you fear might happen from what you can reasonably expect will happen.

5. What are the likely consequences and outcomes of the situation?

6. Are there experiences from your past that would lead you to a conclusion other than your hot thought?

7. Are there objective facts that would contradict items in the "Evidence For" column? Are there facts at odds with your interpretation?

8. What are the real odds that what you fear happening will actually occur? Think like a book maker. Are the odds 1 in 2, 1 in 50, 1 in 1000, ect? Think of all the people in the world in this situation now in the world, how many end up facing the catastrophic outcome you fear?

9. Do you have the social or problem-solving skills to handle the problem differently?

10. Could you create a plan to handle the situation? Is there someone you know who might deal with this situation differently? What would that person do? Write on a separate piece of paper your answers to all of the questions relevant to your hot thought. It may take some thinking; to find exceptions to the generalizations created by your hot thought, to think objectively about the odds of something catastrophic happening , or to recall balancing realities that give you confidence and hope in the face of problems. The work you put into this stepin the evidence gathering process will directly impact your ability to challenge hot thoughts.

Step 4-Write Your Balance or Alternative Thought

Now it is time to synthesize everything you learned in both the "evidence for" and 'evidence against" columns. Read over both columns slowly, accepting all that is written, and now write a new balanced thought which incorporates the information from both columns.

Step 5-Re-Rate Your Mood

Re-rate the feeling you identified in column two. Hopefully it is lesser, if not, please repeat this process. Seeing your mood change can be a strong reinforcement.

Record and save alternative thoughts.

Write your most effective balanced thoughts on 3x5 index cards and carry them with you for emergency use. That's right, pull them out of your pocket and read them.

You could carry them to practice. On one side, write a problem situation, and on the other, your balanced thought. Review for the fun of it.

Practice This Simple Exercise

From one side of your index card, create a visualization of the problem situation, including your hot thought. Make the image rich with sensory data, colors, smells, touches, ect. Take yourself up the arousal ladder a bit, then turn the card over and read your balanced thought, while you continue to see yourself in the trigger scene and practice your balanced thought until the emotion begins to subside.

What you will quickly come to realize is that your automatic thought about the event brings the uncomfortable emotion, and by changing the thought, you can change the emotion.

You might even practice a few "very happy" memories just to feel good every so often, perhaps every five minutes for two heart beats.

Special Considerations

1. If you have more than one main hot thought, do a separate worksheet for each hot thought.

2. If you have difficulty developing alternative interpretations ot the hot thought, imagine how a friend or some objective observer would view the situation.

3. If you have difficulty identifying exceptions, think of times you've been in the target situation without anything negative happening. Or can you remember a time you successfully handled a similar situation.

4. If you have difficulty remembering objective facts contrary to items in the "Evidence For" column, enlist a friend to help.

5. If you have difficulty assessing the odds of a dangerous outcome, make an estimate of all the times someone in the U.S. has been in this same situation. How many times has the feared catastrophe happened?

6. If you have difficulty making an action plan, imagine how a very competant friend or acquaintence would handle the same situation. What would he or she say or do, that might create a different outcome.

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