As a photographer, my son intentionally chooses a lens appropriate for the subject and surroundings, depending on the situation at hand. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), counselors raise awareness of the lens individual clients tend to use. In doing so, we foster the intentionality of healthier thoughts which help clients bypass emotional reactivity and attain mood stability.
In this article, we are going to explore some of the common lenses humans often use that can be detrimental to our thought processes, sending our moods spiraling downward. We will also explore ways a lens can be removed to ensure healthier thoughts to facilitate positive outcomes.
Coined by Aaron Beck in the 1960s, cognitive distortions or "common errors in logic" are very important to identify (Chand, Kuckel, & Hueker, 2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based model widely used by therapists, described by Chand et. al, as a "common-sense model of the relationships among cognition, emotion, and behavior."
These common thinking styles can contribute to increased anxiety or depression, and are often found in clients who have thoughts of suicide (Fazakas-DeHoog, Rnic, & Dozois, 2017). Though very common, each cognitive distortion is like a lens we look through that can skew our perception of a situation or how an event may play out and therefore negatively impact our thinking.
In describing some of these, I will be using examples that could easily relate to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This lens of thought is commonly referred to as "all or nothing thinking". Examples within today's environment might be someone who believes if they go anywhere during the COVID pandemic, they are going to catch the virus. The rigidity of thought does not allow for any "gray" area, which is more realistic. There are many precautions to take to ensure one's own safety when they leave home, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines help us prepare.
This lens of thought causes a person to focus on the worst possible outcome. An example would be someone presuming they will die if they catch the virus. With each passing day seeing the death rate rise, our anxiety and fear can rise also. A more helpful thinking pattern is to bring all the facts into the equation. There are many possible outcomes to catching the virus. Even in the eldest age group, the percentage of survival far outweighs the percentage of those who pass away. We want to think of all of the possible outcomes, not just the worse. (The news can elicit more fear, so it can be helpful to minimize screen time.)
This lens of thought presumes a person knows what others is thinking or saying. Another term for this is jumping to conclusions. An example of the mind reading cognitive distortion recently shared included a person who thought if he wore a mask others would think he was "weak" or "scared". Wearing a mask doesn't make us scared or weak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending this for our safety, and it is also to protect others (2020). We don't want to jump to conclusions because it can negatively impact how we feel about ourselves.
Common in counseling class was the description professors gave about this lens that encouraged students to be careful "should-ing on yourself". Thoughts about what one "should" have done or "ought" to do can lead someone to either regret something or to having "rigid rules which you always apply no matter the circumstances" (Chand, Kuckel, & Hueker, 2020). If you spend a day on the couch during the pandemic instead of doing something productive and later regret it, saying, "I should have done something else"; it won't turn the situation around. We are entitled to self-care. If you are not happy with a choice, you have the power and choice to change it going forward; there is no reason to berate yourself with regret as this will be harmful.
Emotional reasoning assumes because we are feeling a certain way, it must be true. Feelings and logic sometimes don't jive. This lens is one we sometimes identify often too late. Perhaps an example might be someone who is feeling hopeless about the economy due to the pandemic who impulsively withdrawals their savings to purchase material things. Letting emotions rule decisions can cause us and others problems later. We definitely want to weigh emotions with logic to ensure we are making balanced decisions.
The other errors of thinking identified by Beck include: overgeneralization, selective abstraction, disqualifying the positive, fortune telling, minimizing, and personalization. If you find that you recognize any of these patterns of thought and would like help in working on a healthier way of thinking, counseling can help.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor dedicated to helping others navigate through the difficulties in life. She can be reached at (513) 234-9184, through her website, https://www.jacobsoncounseling.org or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020). Steps to stay safe.
Chand, S.P., Kuckel, D.P. and Huecker, M.R. (2020). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). STATPEARLS.
Fazakas-DeHoog, L.L., Rnic, K., and Dozois, D.J.A. (2017). A cognitive distortions and deficits model of
suicide ideation. Europe's Journal of Psychology. Vol. 13(2) 178-193, doi:10.5964/ejop.v13i2.1238