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Catch and challenge negative thoughts

Watch a clinician talk to Emma’s mum about how she can help her daughter catch and challenge her negative thoughts.

In this video, watch a clinician talk to Emma’s mum about how she can help her daughter catch and challenge her ‘negative thoughts’.

Having a thought doesn’t mean that it’s true or accurate. The point of catching our thoughts and checking them is to assess if they’re true, false, helpful or unhelpful.

When people live in really challenging situations for example, poverty, abuse or trauma, the priority must always be to make them safe and to improve their material circumstances. If a young person is being bullied or abused, has poor support from family or friends, or experiences life changing trauma, those are the issues that should be tackled first. Acute life events like bereavements or relationship breakdowns cannot be tackled by thinking differently about them – when these things happen young people need time and support.

However, many young people experience periods of unhappiness or depression long after a life event, or in the absence of any major ongoing problems. In these situations, catching and checking thoughts can help gain a bit of distance from overwhelming feelings, and give a sense of control back to the young person. Catching and checking thoughts also makes it possible to challenge automatic thoughts that can be keeping depression and low mood going, and help break out of the cycle of depression.

Catching and challenging thoughts with the help of another person can also open up new areas of conversation, and help identify new ways to offer practical and emotional support.

Let’s look again at some of Emma’s negative automatic thoughts and some of her thinking traps and possible challenges.

Thought Thinking trap
– I won’t understand what anyone’s talking about?
– I’ll feel stupid
– Predicting the worse
– Do you actually ‘know’ what you will understand?
– Just because you think it doesn’t make it true
– They’ll think I’m pathetic
– The teacher will think I’m lazy
– Mindreading
– Will they- how do you know this is true?
– How could you find out?
– I’m a real loser – What would you say if your best friend said this about herself?
– I’ll feel even worse – Predicting the future again
– Can you possibly ‘know’ this?
– Everyone will look at me – If they did what else could this mean?
– Is it possible they would be pleased to see you back at school?
– I’m just not as popular as the others – What evidence do you have for this?
– Does being popular make everyone happy?
– Are there any examples of popular people who aren’t happy?
– Or examples of less popular people who are happy?
– I won’t be able to stand it – Predicting the worse
– Black and white thinking

Catching and challenging Emma’s thoughts doesn’t make them disappear. However, recognising that automatic thoughts are having an impact on feelings and behaviours exposes them, and makes them less powerful.

As an adult you won’t have access to a young person’s automatic thoughts. This is something that only they can examine. However, you may have some insight into the kinds of unhelpful and negative things they say. You may be in a good position to help them – when they are ready – to examine some of their automatic thoughts and to help them put them on trial.

You might also notice time when their mood or behaviour changes abruptly. These changes can signal that an automatic thought has happened to change their mood. That moment is probably not a good time to start a discussion about what the young person is thinking, and why that might be helpful or not helpful to them. However, it might be useful as an example that you could mention to them another time.

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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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