The basic assumption of cognitive behavioral therapy is that thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence how a person behaves. Distress stems from negative automatic thoughts and through cognitive distortions i.e. processing information inaccurately. This happens when logical reasoning becomes inadequate, affecting emotional processing and behavior. Beck coined the term â€œnegative automatic thoughtsâ€ to describe those thoughts that flash in the mind without conscious awareness. For example, a person who is afraid of heights has negative automatic thoughts such as â€œWhat if I fall off the cliff? What if I run out of air?â€ etc. This produces feelings of anxiety, in turn affecting that personâ€™s behavior of avoiding hill stations or tall buildings. So when the thought is challenged and altered by rationalizing, it does not create anxiety by which the person initially attempts to be of heights. CBT is a structured procedure, where the behavior part of therapy assumes that assigning homework for the client, such as maintaining a thought diary etc., challenges the clientâ€™s faulty thinking and helps to overcome the usual pattern.
Beck in 1967 identified various distorted patterns of thinking. Cognitive distortion is commonly known as error in thinking that affects the well-being of a person. Some of them are as follows:
Arbitrary Inference: It is the process of reaching conclusions on the basis of irrelevant evidences or no evidence at all, such as a person thinking he/she is worthless as the event that they were about to attend was called off. Mind reading and superstitious beliefs are forms of arbitrary inferences.
Selective Abstraction: It is a type of distortion where a person focuses on a single aspect of a situation and ignores the other aspects. For example, a person might feel responsible for the whole team losing a match even though it was a group effort.
Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating a situation than what actually happened and giving least importance to an event than what it deserves is known as magnifying or minimizing. For instance, when a person makes a small mistake in marking a map or misplaces an object, it is blown out of proportion and thought to be having a great impact, referring to magnification. Minimization, for instance happens when a person scores low grades and thinks that it will not have a negative impact.
Overgeneralization: It refers to holding a strong belief and applying it to other circumstances which are completely unrelated. When a person loses a single competition, he/she might overgeneralize and think that they will lose every forthcoming competition.
Personalization: It refers to the tendency of a person to relate external events to self. For instance, when a teacher enters the class with a stern look, the individual might think that the teacher is angry only with him/her with no factual basis.
Dichotomous Thinking: It refers to thinking in all or none fashion. Also known as polarized thinking, where an individual perceives people to be either completely good or completely bad.
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