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Behavioural experiments: The case of Chris

A behavioural experiment could be devised collaboratively between Chris and his therapist to assess any of the identified thoughts highlighted in the previous Step, for example:

  • People find me boring and won’t want to talk to me
  • Other people will think there’s something wrong with me
  • I’ll get tongue-tied when making small talk
  • I’ll make a fool of myself
  • I’ll blush really badly if I have to talk to a stranger

The over-riding objective of any behavioural experiment would be to allow Chris the opportunity to test the validity of these existing beliefs about himself, other people or the world around him. They might take different forms, depending upon the belief being tested.

For example, a behavioural experiment may be seen as straightforward hypothesis testing (eg is it true that I will blush when I speak with someone I find attractive?) or as a discovery experiment (eg what would happen if I didn’t have my phone with me in a social situation? Or, what would happen if I did blush?). Equally a patient may play a very active role in a behavioural experiment (eg by putting themselves in a feared situation and seeing what happens) or may play an observational role (think of the perfume in the lift experiment). Irrespective of the form or nature that a behavioural experiment may take, they’ll always follow some specific steps:

  • planning the experiment
  • carrying out the experiment
  • observing the results
  • reflecting on what the results mean

We’ll look at each of these in more detail, starting with planning the experiment in the next Step.

© University of Reading
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Understanding Anxiety, Depression and CBT

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