CBT Series Part 1: Introducing the Power of Our Thoughts

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
I'm very passionate about the importance of our thoughts. As a child therapist, I utilized CBT more than any other modality. Though it's difficult to do that kind of work as a school counselor, I certainly implement aspects of it. Some of my ideas are innovative, some are not. Hopefully, my posts in this series can be of help to those wanting to use these concepts in individual counseling, group counseling, or classroom lessons.

CBT Series Part 1: Introducing the Power of Our Thoughts

I've seen how powerful it can be for students to identify unhelpful thoughts and replace them with helpful ones but I've also struggled to find great ways to introduce these concepts to students. The best way I've found so far is to tell students the story of the dog and the two boys (or girls) while drawing it.

 A story, using CBT, cognitive behavior therapy with elementary age to help them change unhelpful thoughts.

"Let me tell you a story. One day, there were two boys, both 8 years old walking home from school. What should we name them? Ok, John and James." Draw two boys with these names.

"While they were walking home, both boys saw the exact same dog in the middle of the road. This is what their faces looked like." Draw a dog, add feeling faces to the boys.

"Whoa. They look like they feel very different. How does it look like John feels? How does it look like James feels?" Add hearts next to each boy, write feelings inside.

"Hm. So both boys are the same age, and they both see the same dog, but they feel totally different. I wonder why that could be." (at this time, some kids will give ideas about their thoughts - others I have to go further with) "What do you think James was thinking when he saw the dog? What do you think John was thinking?" Add thought bubbles to boys.

(Lots of students tell me here what the boys would want to do. I reflect this, add it to the picture, and then ask what their brains said that made them want to do that)

"Ok, so if John was thinking 'I love dogs, they are so much fun!' and feeling excited or happy, what would he to do? If James was thinking 'Dogs are dangerous, it might bite me' and is feeling scared, what would he do?" Draw hands and include actions.

"Whoa. Check this out. These boys were the same age and saw the same dog but they felt very different feelings and did different things. Hm. Why do you think they felt so different? Do you think it could be their thoughts?"

From here I explain that all day long, we are thinking and that these thoughts are what our brain is saying. Some of these thoughts help us, and some of them hurt us. Our brains are powerful and we are in charge of what we think. Though this example is a helpful start, most of my students (7-10 year olds) need some more help distinguishing between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I'll save that for another post!


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