NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 19, 2018

How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Become Aware of Distorted Thinking

Psychotherapy can help you to become aware of a distorted pattern of thinking, which could be contributing to your unhappiness.  Prior to beginning psychotherapy, most clients are unaware of their particular pattern of thinking.  A skilled psychotherapist can assist clients to change their distorted thinking (also called cognitive distortions).  In Part 1 of this topic, I'm focusing on the various types of cognitive distortions.  In Part 2, I'll discuss how psychotherapy can help to overcome cognitive distortions.

How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Become Aware of  Distorted Thinking 
Distorted Thinking/Cognitive Distortions
There are many ways that a particular pattern of thinking can create problems without people even realizing it.  These patterns are distortions in thinking and often begin early in life.  Another term for distorted thinking or cognitive distortions is errors in thinking.

Here are some of the most common cognitive distortions:
  • Taking Things Personally:  People who tend to take things personally see others' words and deeds as being directed at them when they're not.  For instance, if your boss comes to work in a bad mood and seems annoyed, someone who takes things personally might think that the boss is angry with him.  But, in reality, the boss is looking annoyed because he had an argument with his wife before he came to work, and his mood has nothing to do with anyone else.
  • Jumping to Conclusions:  People who jump to conclusions will make assumptions without having objective facts, and they will assume that they're right.  The example that I gave above about the moody boss is one way of jumping to conclusions.  
  • Catastrophizing: Simply put, catastrophizing is when a person expects the worst in most situations. His fears are usually exaggerated without sufficient evidence for this type of fear. An example of catastrophizing would be if a person hears a weather report that indicates there will be 1-2 inches of snow and makes the assumption that there will be a gigantic snowstorm where he might not be able to leave the house.  The weather report becomes exaggerated in his mind and he becomes highly anxious when there is no objective reason to believe there will be a storm.
  • Overgeneralization:  People who engage in overgeneralization often take one or two instances of something happening and make the assumption that this is how it is always.  For instance, if someone has a negative encounter with a postal employee at the post office and, based on that one experience, he says that all postal employees are rude.  This is an overgeneralization.  
  • Fallacy of Fairness:  Many children grow up thinking that the world should be "fair" and, as adults, when they encounter situations which are "unfair," it contradicts their way of thinking.  Without even realizing it, many people carry this belief from childhood into adulthood.  This type of belief can be very subtle, and it's ingrained in our culture that if you are "good," good things will come to you and if you're "bad," bad things will come your way. As an example, someone who believes that he lives in a world where justice prevails might be disillusioned and confused when someone who assaulted him suffers no legal consequences because of a technicality in the law. 
  • Blaming or Externalizing:  When people have a tendency to engage in blaming others (also known as externalizing), they don't take responsibility for their own thinking, feelings or actions.  Instead of looking at themselves first, they point the finger at someone else to avoid taking responsibility.  An example of this is when someone drives while intoxicated after having an argument with his significant other.  Rather than taking responsibility for using poor judgment by drinking and driving, he blames his significant other for "making" him angry.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning is when a person assumes that his thoughts and feelings are facts.  An example of this would be a person has strong feelings about a coworker and makes the assumption based solely on his emotions that his feelings are true without having objective facts (see my article:  Discovering That Your Feelings Aren't Facts).
  • The Need to Be Right:  The need to be right involves a need to prove that one's opinion, feelings or actions are correct even in the face of contrary facts.  As an example, a person who needs to be right often won't listen to what her significant other is saying because she "knows" that what she's thinking is right and her significant other is wrong.  The need to be right goes beyond having a different opinion.  This person's shaky sense of self worth is based on being right.
  • Filtering:  Filtering involves paying attention to only certain aspects of a situation and not to others.  For instance, a person who tends to engage in filtering might only pay attention to the negative side of a situation rather than looking at the whole picture which includes positive aspects because the negative side confirms his opinion.  
In my next article, I'll discuss how psychotherapists help clients to overcome cognitive distortions: How Psychotherapy Can Help You Change Distorted Thinking.

Getting Help in Therapy
Psychotherapy can help you to overcome psychological obstacles that are getting in the way of your maximizing your potential (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist helps clients to overcome problems that keep clients feeling stuck whether it's related to a history of psychological trauma or more recent problems (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than suffering on your own, you could work with an experienced mental health professional who can help you to overcome your problems so you can lead a more fulfilling 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.