Cognitive Behavioral Techniques in Action

You’ve heard about cognitive behavioral techniques and how they help fight depression. While there are many techniques, the one we are going to look at here is probably the most important of the bunch. It is called a TALK BACK. In short, it is an individual’s active rebuttal to his/her automatic, negative thoughts.

To help you see how this works, we are going to look at the automatic thoughts of Maria, a thirty five year old woman who gave me permission to use a likeness-dialogue from her automatic talk-back work. A likeness-dialogue has all the pertinent information the individual has provided, but changes any details that would jeopardize the individual’s confidentiality. This excerpt is taken directly from my book, If I Could Just Snap Out of It, Don’t You Think I Would?

Here’s Maria, talking about herself.

“I’m fat. I look like a pig. Here I am, Porky, going out on the town. All ready and set to be roasted. My body alone could feed all of downtown Seattle. Jeez, I’m disgusting. Thoughts of going to Aruba are a joke. I can’t fly on a plane. I can’t fit into a seat. ‘Here she comes, ladies and gentleman, Porky. Give her two seats, maybe three. What the hell, she’s got fat to spare.’ I’ll never get a date. No one would want to be seen with me. No wonder I’m single. My fat and I will die together. The perfect greasy pair. I hate myself.”

Not very nice, huh? So let’s look at what Maria did with these thoughts.

Here is Maria’s talk-back to her thoughts. She is using the talk back form from my book.

MARIA’S AUTOMATIC THOUGHT (her first)

“I‘m fat.”

MARIA’S TALK-BACK TO HER THOUGHT

“How fat is fat? Am I three hundred pounds overweight? Am I five hundred pounds overweight? No, I am not.” (See how talking back can help?)

MARIA’S MORE REALISTIC THING TO SAY TO HERSELF

“I’m thirty five pounds overweight. While I don’t like this, at least I’m not a hundred pounds overweight. Maybe I can dosomething about it.”

WHAT MESSAGE IS MARIA GIVING HERSELF? (This is a pathway to finding underlying meaning.)

“I’m uncomfortable with being overweight.”

WHAT IS MARIA WILLING TO DO ABOUT HER MESSAGE?

“I’m going to come up with a way to start losing some weight. Maybe I’ll start by cutting my food in half.”

See how the talk-back and further questioning helps correct Maria’s distorted thoughts? Let’s look at Maria’s next automatic thought.

MARIA’S NEXT AUTOMATIC THOUGHT (her second)

“I look like a pig.”

MARIA’S TALK-BACK TO HER THOUGHT

”Well, that’s ridiculous. Pigs have four legs. I have two. And pigs have a snout. I have a nose. And pigs are short. I’m not. Pigs live in the mud. I avoid the mud at all cost.” (Talking back can do wonders.)

MARIA’S MORE REALISTIC THING TO SAY TO HERSELF

“I am overweight, but I am not an animal who lives in the mud. I have speech and feelings. In fact, I am very much a human.”

WHAT MESSAGE IS MARIA GIVING HERSELF?

“It upsets me so much that I am overweight that I don’t even feel human.” (Finding underlying meaning helps you create a plan.)

WHAT IS MARIA WILLING TO DO ABOUT HER MESSAGE?

“I will come up with a way to lose weight.”

And so on with her automatic thoughts. In Maria’s case, she also needed to write down her assumptions and talk back to them. Not everyone uses assumptions in their internal monologues. For those who do, the same automatic thought form can be used.

MARIA’S AUTOMATIC ASSUMPTION (her first)

“I’m so fat I can’t travel because I can’t fit into an airline seat.”

MARIA’S TALK-BACK TO HER ASSUMPTION

“Airlines wouldn’t be so stupid as to make their seats so small that people can’t fit in them. Lots of people are overweight and airlines want business. They are not going to size their seats for skinny people only. Besides, thirty five pounds is not that much overweight and it won’t prevent me from fitting into a seat.”

MARIA’S MORE REALISTIC THING TO SAY TO HERSELF

“I may have to squeeze into the airline seat, but lots of other people have to do this because there are a lot of people who are overweight. I may feel uncomfortable if people are watching me, but the truth is that most people will be too busy with their own stuff to watch me. But I definitely don’t like the fact that I am overweight.

WHAT MESSAGE IS MARIA GIVING HERSELF?

“I don’t like being overweight.”

WHAT IS MARIA WILLING TO DO ABOUT IT?

“I’m going to lose weight.”

Let’s look at Maria’s next assumption.

“I’ll never get a date.”

MARIA’S TALK-BACK TO HER ASSUMPTION

“How in the world would I know that? Lots of people get dates. Men are attracted to all sorts of women. Some men like women with fuller figures. Besides, my face is cute. And how can I possibly say I’ll never get a date? Do I know what’s going to happen to me for the rest of my life?”

MARIA’S MORE REALISTIC THING TO SAY TO HERSELF

“Some men may be attracted to me, particularly men who like women with full figures.”

WHAT MESSAGE IS MARIA GIVING HERSELF?

“I need to lose weight so I feel better about myself and so more men will be attracted to me.”

WHAT IS MARIA WILLING TO DO ABOUT HER MESSAGE?

“I’m going to lose weight.”

You get the idea.