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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Change Distorted Thinking

In my prior article, I described the various forms of cognitive distortions that often create unhappiness.  In this article, I'm focusing on how psychotherapy can help you to overcome cognitive distortions.

How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Change Distorted Thinking

Psychotherapists are trained to detect cognitive distortions, which, as I mentioned in my prior article, include:
  • Taking things personally
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Catastrophizing
  • Overgeneralization
  • Fallacy of fairness
  • Blaming or Externalizing
  • Emotional reasoning
  • A need to be right
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Filtering
Aside from bringing these distortions in thinking to a clients' attention, a psychotherapist will often help clients to identify the origin of these thoughts and help clients to change their pattern of thinking so that it is healthier and more effective.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Change Distorted Thinking

Sam
Sam began psychotherapy at the suggestion of his wife after they had another argument where Sam insisted that he was right and his wife was wrong.

Subsequently, Sam realized that they each had a different way of looking at the situation that they were arguing about and, as it turned out, his wife was correct, which disturbed Sam very much.

Sam told his psychotherapist during their initial consultation that he hated to be wrong because it made him feel "stupid" and ashamed.  Although he apologized to his wife, he realized that there were many times when he had arguments with his wife when he insisted that he was right and afterwards he realized that his wife was correct.

In hindsight, Sam recognized that none of these arguments were about anything important.  They were about everyday issues, but he had such strong feelings about being right and it disturbed him greatly when it turned out that he had made a mistake (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).

He realized that his need to be right was having a negative impact on his marriage, and he feared that if he didn't overcome this problem, his marriage might not survive.

During his next therapy session, Sam revealed that his need to be right started when he was a young child.  Growing up with two highly critical parents, Sam learned early on that they became upset whenever he made a mistake, especially his father.

Whenever Sam made a mistake, whether it was at school or at home and no matter how small the mistake was, his parents let him know that they were disappointed in him.  They would withdraw emotionally from him, which led to his feeling ashamed whenever he was wrong.

As a result, whenever there was a possibility of Sam being wrong, he would become highly anxious because he didn't want to make his parents unhappy.  He especially didn't want them to withdraw from him emotionally.

Since his childhood, he felt it was unacceptable for him to be wrong.  Logically, he understood that everyone makes mistakes but, on an emotionally level, he would panic if he thought there was even a possibility of being wrong or making a mistake.

Rather than admit that he might be wrong or he might have made a mistake, he would insist that he was right.  It was like a knee jerk reaction that he had, which was preferable to him than considering the possibility that he might be wrong and all that this implied for him.

This created problems for him in his career as well as in his friendships.  Now, it was creating problems between Sam and his wife because she was fed up with it.

Over time, Sam's psychotherapist helped Sam to recognize that panicky feeling by helping him to be aware of what he was feeling physically in his body at those times.

At first, Sam had difficulty with this because he wasn't accustomed to identify where he felt emotions in his body.  But, over time, using the mind-body connection and a recent memory of having an argument with his wife when he insisted that he was right, Sam's therapist helped him to identify that he felt panic in his stomach.

As time went on, Sam's therapist helped him to make the emotional connection between his current panic and how anxious he felt as a child whenever his parents criticized him for his mistakes.

Sam and his therapist also used EMDR therapy to work through his childhood trauma.

Since EMDR therapy addresses the past, present and future, eventually, Sam was able to work through the past and tolerate being wrong in the present with his wife and others.  He no longer had the need to insist that he was always right, and he and his wife got along better.

Conclusion
Cognitive distortions can create personal unhappiness as well as problems in relationships.

The fictional vignette above addresses a particular type of cognitive distortion, the need to be right, and shows how therapy helps clients to work through the underlying issues involved as well as address current and future circumstances.  A skilled psychotherapist can address other forms of cognitive distortion as well.

Getting Help in Therapy
Even when you have insight into your distorted thinking, it's difficult to change these problems on your own (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through the underlying issues that created the distortions and help you to free yourself from a difficult personal history (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional so you can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.










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