In one of our previous posts, “Can We Control Our Thoughts?”, we examined if it is possible to stop or control our thoughts. Here, I give an example of how to challenge an automatic thought about controlling our thinking.
I use the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for challenging automatic thoughts.
Carol has an obsession that she wishes to stop having.
In her mind, she is having images of killing an animal accidentally while driving. For this reason, she avoids driving even though she got her driving license successfully.
She thinks “I wish I could stop seeing these images of dying animals everywhere I look while driving.”
Simply, she wants the images to stop popping up in her head.
As I summarized in techniques for identifying automatic thoughts, this thought can be translated as “I must stop seeing these images of dying animals.”, and can be challenged using CBT techniques.
But still, I would wonder WHY she thinks she must stop seeing these images, WHY she NEEDS she must.
So, we can further question her thought, asking:
“What does it say about you that you are having these images of dying animals?”
“Well, I don’t know. Something is wrong with me?”
“OK. Could you explain this to me a bit further?”
“I don’t know really. What if I have a secret desire to hurt things? I don’t know. What if I am a psychopath?”
Can be translated as: “Having these kinds of images means that I might be a secret psychopath.”
Now, we can challenge this thought, asking her:
1. The Definition
What does “psychopath” mean (in your dictionary)?
What does a psychopath do?
How does she/he behave?
2. The Accuracy
How did you come to this conclusion that having these images might mean that you might be a psychopath?
What evidence do you have to support this thought?
3. The Alternatives
Is it possible that there is another explanation for having these images?
(Fact: even though many people experience obsessions only some of them have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Those who appraise their intrusive thoughts as highly significant, having a big secret meaning and must be gotten rid of.)
If your best friend would be having the same images in her mind would you think she might be a secret psychopath?
4. The Meaning
What does psychopath mean in your dictionary? What does a psychopath do?
Let’s say that she said, “a psychopath can hurt an animal easily.”
What does this say about you? What do you value so that you have the thought “having these images might mean that I am a psychopath”?
How about that she doesn’t want to be a person who can easily hurt animals?
5. The Result of Believing the Tought
What happens when you believe this thought “having these images might mean that I am a psychopath”?
When she believes these thoughts, she thinks she has to stop having these images.
She believes that if these thoughts do not stop, she cannot drive.
As a result, she cannot drive.
6. What If not Believe the Thought
What if you did not believe the thought “having these images might mean that I am a psychopath”?
She could see the reason behind the thought is her desire not to hurt animals, and, she could also see that
Having the images is not the problem, believing that she shouldn’t have them is.
Thanks for reading,
Clark, David A. (Ed.). (2005). Intrusive Thoughts in Clinical Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. New York, NY:The Guilford Press.