I was fortunate enough to go through an eight week Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program through Mesa Vista Hospital in San Diego, California, one of the first CBT facilities in the United States. If there are miracles, the doctors, nurses, and therapists at Mesa Vista are performing them every day. As a school administrator, I often referred students to Mesa Vista Hospital when they were in the midst of a psychological breakdown. My time at Mesa Vista has given me a deep level of empathy and compassion for those students and their families. I remember students who were struggling with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the like, in the absence of medical insurance. They did the best they could, although in retrospect, I didn’t really get that. I was a professional, I had overcome so much, why couldn’t they. What a gift to have been given the experience of breaking down, just as my students did. I understand now that sometimes, through no fault of your own, your mind becomes sick and you simply cannot go on. Empathy. And for me, when this happened, the staff at Mesa Vista Hospital became another of my Bellowing Angels. Gratitude.
One of the most valuable tools I learned to use in the CBT program is the THOUGHT RECORD, which helps to change destructive AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS into more healthy BALANCED THOUGHTS. Completing one thought record a day helped me identify my negative automatic thoughts as they occurred and to take small, consistent steps to transform my thinking to a more positive outlook.
Here’s how it works.
First, identify a situation that leads to a negative automatic thought. An Example could be going to a social function, such as a work party.
Second, identify the automatic thought that accompanies this situation. Examples include, “They won’t like me.” or “I’m going to make a fool of myself.”
Third, rate the intensity of this automatic thought from 0 to 100 percent.
Fourth, list the emotions you have as a result of the automatic thought. Examples include embarrassment, depression, anger, etc.
Fifth, rate the intensity of each emotion from 0 to 100 percent.
Sixth, make a list of evidence/facts, life events or experiences, that prove/support your automatic thought. It’s important not to include judgements or opinions, thoughts or feelings. Examples include “Last month, I left a party early because I felt nervous.” or “My friend told me I am awkward at social gatherings.”
Seventh, make a list of evidence/facts, life events or experiences, that disprove/refute your automatic thought. As you create your list of refuting evidence, cross off items from your supporting evidence list as they are refuted. Examples include, “I have been to parties and had a great time in the past.” or “I’ve been told I have a great personality.”
Eighth, write a balanced replacement thought. An example includes, “Although social gatherings can make me uncomfortable, I’ve been told I’m fun to be around, and the more I practice I can learn to relax and enjoy being with other people.”
Ninth, rerate the intensity of your automatic thought from 0 to 100 percent. The percent should decrease as a result of this exercise.
Tenth, rerate the intensity of each emotion you listed related to the original automatic thought. The percent for each emotion should decrease as a result of completing this exercise.
Remember! Do a thought record every day. And please throw out perfectionism. The goal is not to do your thought records “perfectly,” but to simply DO your thought records. It’s the consistency that leads to growth.
I found that being consistent and completing a though record each day had a noticeable effect on my mood and outlook on life. I’m committing now to complete one thought record a day for the next 30 days.
If you have questions about completing thought records, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments sections.
Have a great day.
The Bellowing Angels (T.B.A.)