Step 2 Challenging Negative Thoughts

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Now let's work on modifying your automatic thoughts. Your thoughts can be considered hypotheses, rather than hard facts, about certain events. Complete the next two columns, "Evidence That Supports" and "Evidence That Does Not Support" your hot thoughts. Be a scientist observing your own thought process: Is there any evidence for or against your conclusion that you let your dad down or can't live up to his expectations? Did your father say anything that indicated differently? Have you had any experiences with your dad recently that would show that these conclusions are not always true? Are you discounting anything positive that he said? Could your sad mood have made you view the conversation differently from what it really was? Would you have viewed it differently in a different mood state? Was the outcome of the conversation really within your control? (Greenberger & Padesky, 1995).

The next step is to complete the column titled "Alternative/Balanced Thoughts." This is the chance to consider alternative viewpoints that are more balanced (as opposed to distorted), even if you don't believe them fully. Try writing down all of the other causes, explanations, or conclusions you could have drawn from this event, and rate each of them on a 0-100% scale as to how credible you find them (100% means you believe this alternative explanation fully, 0% means not at all). Examples might include: "I think Dad was just in a bad mood that day and 1 got defensive" (40%); "We got on the touchy subject of money, which always makes us both uncomfortable" (70%); and "Dad expressed disappointment in me, but some important things came to light that we needed to talk about" (50%). Once you have generated and reflected on these alternative thoughts, make new ratings of your moods (depression, anxiety, or any other emotions you listed in column 2) using the same 0-100% (or -3 - +3) scale.

In developing alternative thoughts, consider the following strategies (Greenberger & Padesky, 1995). Write a sentence that summarizes all of the "for" and "against" evidence for your cognition about this event (perhaps link the evidence with the word and or but, as in the examples in the preceding paragraph). Consider what advice you would give another person who was in the same situation, had the same thoughts and moods, and had given you the same for/against evidence. Consider the best, worst, and most likely (realistic) outcomes if your hot cognition turns out to be true. For example, if the hot cognition "I let Dad down again" turns out to be true, a worst-case outcome might be that he reminds you of your failings the next time you talk to him and you end up feeling even worse; a best-case outcome might be that he apologizes and admits he was wrong, and you feel great; a realistic outcome might be that you feel tension the next time you talk to him but that you effectively steer the conversation toward more comfortable topics.

Jacob, the soccer coach, learned to evaluate the evidence for and against his automatic, self-blaming thought that "I'm no good with kids." There was plenty of evidence to the contrary, given the many positive comments he received, on an ongoing basis, from his wife, the soccer players, and their parents. He was able to generate more balanced thoughts: "Sometimes the kids get uncooperative when I'm not feeling my best"; "Coaching can be a difficult task no matter how good you are"; "Today the kids were getting overstimu-lated and weren't in the mood to learn." His mood tended to improve upon introducing and repeatedly restating to himself these countervailing thoughts.

Another person with bipolar disorder, Katrina, age 41, had emigrated to the United States from Hungary. A year after arriving she obtained a job at an inner city school teaching teenagers who were developmentally disabled. During a particularly difficult day, three of the boys in the class cursed at her and told her she was the worst teacher they'd ever had. By day's end, she felt quite depressed and anxious, and didn't want to go back to work. She took two days off, citing "mental exhaustion." She recounted thoughts in reaction to this event, such as, "Maybe I shouldn't be a teacher . 1 don't know if 1 have the strength and willpower . . . I'm not effective; I can't deal with it by myself . . 1 don't belong; 1 can't make it." She identified "I'm not effective" as the most powerful, emotion-provoking hot thought.

In examining the evidence for and against this thought, Katrina cited the fact that she'd had to call in the school counselor to help mediate the conflict, that the kids liked her only when she was being friendly and casual but not when she was actually teaching, and that she seemed more powerfully affected by this incident than the other teachers thought she should be. She was also able to generate evidence against her hot cognition, including the fact that she had received positive evaluations of her teaching from the school administration and that her earlier teaching experiences in Hungary had been quite positive. She admitted that "the kids are troubled and angry at everybody" and "I've seen them curse out other teachers." She also recalled that the incident began after one of the boys had verbally taunted another boy in the class.

She eventually settled on more balanced views that did not rule out her own role in causing the incident but that included the contrary evidence: "I'm a good teacher, but I have a difficult set of students that anyone would have a problem with. ... I sometimes struggle with my own boundaries and how to set limits with people. . . I'm new at this, and it's hard not to get my buttons pushed,. . . I'm still making a difference in their lives, and they're teaching me a lot about myself even though they hurt my feelings sometimes." Her mood in reaction to the confrontation improved significantly upon reviewing these balanced thoughts. Over time, as her depression lifted, she focused on the larger question of whether she wanted to teach, which had become confused in her mind with whether she was good at it.

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