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Thought catching

Catching thoughts is the first and essential stage of putting thoughts on trial. Because so many of our thoughts are automatic we can’t know if we’re making thinking mistakes. To work this out we first have to catch our thoughts and hold onto them long enough to have a closer look.

Usually it’s easiest to catch a thought that occurs in a very specific situation. Something recent is probably best. We suggest writing things down to keep a record, which also helps us feel ‘ownership’, and helps make a fleeting and abstract thought more concrete and ‘real’. Recording a thought also means that we can stand a little further back and consider it in a more neutral way.

At the end of Week 3 we asked you to keep a thought diary. Here we explain in more detail how this can be used by a teenager.

Here’s an example using the illustration of Emma that we’ve discussed above.

1. We start with “What happened’ – this is the easy bit

  • First write down what the young person was doing and where they were
  • If it’s relevant add who they were with
Time and date What happened? What you thought – how much you believe it? Feeling – how strong is the feeling?
8.30pm Monday (at home, with me) Getting ready for school    

2. Thoughts

These are questions for the young person to ask themselves, perhaps with your help. Below are some suggestions for ways to help them think about the answers but be careful not to answer for them. None of us are mind readers – we can’t know what other are thinking – we can guess but we often get it wrong.

Remember thoughts can include pictures, words, and memories

  • What went through your mind?
  • What could you see in your ‘mind’s eye’?
  • What did you say to yourself?
  • How much did you believe the thought (0 means don’t believe it at all, 100 means definitely true)?
Time and date What happened? What you thought – how much you believe it? Feeling – how strong is the feeling?
8.30pm Monday (at home, with me) Getting ready for school – Will anyone talk to me?
– Probably not
– 80%
 

3. Feelings

The next step is to link the thoughts to how the young person felt at the time. You might be able to help them but be careful not to add your own feelings. Often young people have a limited number of words they understand to describe emotions – using emoticons can really help them to elaborate things.

Time and date What happened? What you thought – how much you believe it? Feeling – how strong is the feeling?
8.30pm Monday (at home, with me) Getting ready for school – Will anyone talk to me?
– Probably not
– 80%
–Sad, embarrassed
– 90%

Sometimes the first example you choose is really difficult for the young person to remember or to describe, so don’t be put off if they struggle. Use their activity diary to choose another example. This might give them clues about when they felt low, and might remind them of where they were and what they were doing.

Thought catching can be really difficult. They can also try filling out the log when something really great happens or if their mood suddenly changes.

Why don’t you try and keep your own thought diary – that might help you to help them. You can download the daily thought diary here and just copy or reprint as you need more.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

University of Reading