[Animation] CBT technique for unhelpful thoughts

a profile photo of Carly Francis
Onsite Mental Health Therapist for Bupa Clinics
18 May 2021
Next review due May 2024

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help to improve your mental health. It aims to change negative thoughts and beliefs you may have, that can affect how you feel and behave.

Hundreds of automatic thoughts pop into our head every day. Sometimes these are negative and unhelpful. But thoughts are not facts, so it’s helpful to challenge our thinking. A ‘thought record’ is one CBT technique that can help you look at negative thoughts in a more balanced way.

This exercise works well if you have a notepad and pen to write down your answers.

Step 1. Think about the situation that’s upsetting you.

What emotions and feelings do you have?

How intense are they? Rate the intensity from one to 10, with 10 being the most intense.

Step 2. What is the negative thought?

Try and be specific about the thoughts running through your mind and write them down. Perhaps something hasn’t gone as well as you’d have liked. Your thoughts start spiralling and you start to think that everything always goes wrong, and maybe even that you’re a bad person.

Step 3. Now it’s time to put your thoughts on trial.

Focus on the facts – is there any factual evidence that this thought is true?

Does everything always go wrong? Are you really a terrible person? Was what happened all your fault? Would you say the same things to someone you care about if they were in this situation?

Step 4. Now, what is the evidence that this thought is not true?

Can you think of a time when something you did went well? What about your friends and family and how much they care and value you? What are the good things in this situation?

Step 5. Weigh up the evidence.

Is there an alternative thought? A more balanced and realistic way of looking at things?

Perhaps alternative thoughts could be: Things didn’t go as well as I’d liked, but that’s ok. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I am a good, kind person. I am human and doing the best I can.

Step 6. Check back in with yourself.

How do you feel now? Rate the intensity again from one to 10.

Remember, the way that you think about a situation affects how you feel. Try this exercise next time automatic negative thoughts start to affect you.

If you are worried about your mental health, please see your GP for help and support.

If you need help now

If you need help now, please use the following services.

  • Samaritans
    116 123 (UK and ROI) This helpline is free for you to call and talk to someone.
  • NHS Services has a list of where to get urgent help for mental health.
  • Mind website. Click on the yellow ‘Get help now’ button at the top left of the page. This is a tool that is designed to help you understand what’s happening to you and how you can help yourself.

If you think you might harm yourself or are worried someone else might come to immediate harm, call the emergency services on 999 or go to your local accident and emergency department.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

a profile photo of Carly Francis
Carly Francis
Onsite Mental Health Therapist for Bupa Clinics

    • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Mind., published October 2017
    • Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy. Oxford handbook of psychiatry. Oxford Medicine Online., published online June 2019
    • Court trial thought challenging record. Psychology Tools. 2020
    • CBT thought record. Psychology Tools. 2020
    • Challenging unhelpful thinking styles. Centre for Clinical Interventions., accessed 21 April 2021
    • Unhelpful thinking styles. Psychology Tools. 2020

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