CBT Series Part 2: Thought Detectives

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
One way I try to help students replace unhelpful thoughts is to examine whether or not they are true. We do this by becoming 'detectives' searching for 'evidence' both for and against their thoughts.

Before we do this with their thought, I say "What if I was thinking 'All the kids at this school hate me'? That thought would make me feel sad. What if I told you I was thinking that, what would you say?'. Then they usually laugh and say 'no way!' and we collect some evidence for both sides. Depending on the age of the student, at this point I tell them either that I decided that my thought was untrue and I was getting rid of it or I try to come up with a more helpful and realistic thought like 'Some of the kids might not like me, but most of them do'.

Teaching CBT, Something Might Happen, anxiety and phobias,a look inside the book, If the student's unhelpful thoughts are related to anxiety or phobias, then I sometimes introduce this idea using the book Something Might Happen. The main character in this (very funny and silly) story has several unfounded worries that he eventually gets over.

Students and I can examine one of the character's thoughts and decide whether or not there's evidence to support it.

Teaching CBTto elementary, using cognitive behavior therapy to change unhelpful thoughts examples

Then we get to the tough stuff - the student's thought! Here's an example of one I did with a 3rd grade girl about her thoughts that her parents being outside indicated something had already happened or was going to happen. I circled the evidence she thought was most powerful and then I sent this home with her to share with her mom.

Teaching CBT to change unhelpful thoughts, elementary student example

I do this activity at least once a week and while it usually goes as planned, it doesn't always. Sometimes students are ready to examine their thought(s) and sometimes they are not. I've found that this activity works best with kids that are ready to accept help for their symptoms and can accept that the situation cannot be changed.


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