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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.
So Lucy, as you know, I’ve been working on a number of things with Emma in this session. And one of the things that we’ve been talking about is how her thoughts are linked with her mood. So if you have a look at this diagram here, Emma and I have been talking about the idea that when Emma has a lot of negative thoughts, that then causes her to feel low, and then, that feeds into more negative thoughts. It’s a bit like a cycle. Yes, I understand. Yeah. So we’ve been trying to break through that cycle.
And one way of doing that is to maybe work on her negative thoughts, so help her to think a little bit differently, and hopefully, that will help her to feel better as well. I hope so, yes. So you might recall that Emma sometimes jumps to conclusions a lot. Very much so. So I’ve been really helping her to try and identify times when that’s happening for her, so really catch those sort of thoughts that she’s having and then have a go at thinking a little bit differently. OK. Because one of the messages that I’ve been trying to kind of put across to Emma is that actually, there’s lots of different ways that you can think in the same situation. Right. Yeah.
OK. So what would be really fantastic is if you could help me to do that by helping Emma to recognise times when she’s perhaps having those sort of thoughts and then maybe reminding her to use some of the strategies from our sessions, sort of in between the sessions. Oh, OK. Cool. That would be really great. And I find that the best way of perhaps showing you some of those techniques and what we’ve been working on is actually to demonstrate it in a role play. So what I thought maybe we could do is if you could play the role of Emma, you be your daughter. OK. Yeah? And I’ll try and be you. [GIGGLES] Oh. Good luck. [LAUGHS] OK.
And I’m going to see whether I can have a conversation with you about something that comes up maybe fairly often. And I’m going to have a go at helping you to recognise your thoughts and then also maybe to think a little bit differently. Sounds really helpful, yes. Great. And then at the end, we’ll have a little talk about how that went. Mm-hm. OK, brilliant. So obviously, Emma and I have talked about a number of things that she thinks about. But I don’t know, do you have any ideas in mind about what we could use as an example for the role play? Going and doing activities. OK. She likes to go and play sport, like hockey.
But it’s difficult to get her, to encourage her, to go out the door. She’s good at sport. She doesn’t want to go, because she says the girls don’t like her. OK. So I’ve been trying to encourage her to go back to hockey. OK. Yeah. Should we use that example? Yeah. Yeah. Great. When does that normally happen? Is there a particular day? Saturday morning. OK. All right. So let’s pretend it’s Saturday morning. And yeah, let’s have a go. OK. OK. All right. So Emma, are you going to hockey practice today? No. I don’t want to go, Mum. They don’t like me there. Mm. Is that what you’re thinking? Mm.
And they don’t pass the ball to me, so I don’t want to go. OK. I mean, I guess in a way it’s not surprising, then, that you don’t want to go if you’re thinking that they don’t like you and that they’re not going to pass the ball to you. That makes sense. Yeah. Is that making you feel a bit low this morning? Yes. Yeah. I don’t want to go. It makes me feel low. And you didn’t go last week either. Is that the reason as well? No, I didn’t go last week. OK. Do you mind if we have a little chat about it right now? Yeah, OK. I don’t mind. OK.
So as you know, your therapist and I met for a session, and we talked about some of the things that you’ve been working on together. And she told me that one of the things she’s been working on with you is about catching thoughts and then thinking differently. Yeah. Mm-hm? Yeah. She talked about that. OK. And I’m wondering whether this is an example of– do you remember she talked about you wearing depression glasses and jumping to conclusions? Yeah. Yeah. Do you think that might be sort of relevant here? Do you think this is a good example of that? [SIGHS] Yeah, I think so in some ways. Mm-hmm. OK. I mean, when, there’s some funny people on the team.
And I think, and they tell a lots of jokes. But sometimes, I think they’re laughing at me. Mm-hm. OK. So I guess that’s one way of looking at it, isn’t it? So when they’re laughing, you think, they’re laughing at me. Do you think, because you remember, your therapist has talked about maybe trying to think in other ways. Do you think there’s a different way of thinking about that as well? Yeah, I think so. Because like I said, there are funny people, and they do like telling jokes. And and they do make people laugh. And their jokes are funny. Some of them do funny things. Mm-hm.
And they do take the mickey out of each other, but not in a nasty way. Everyone is very nice. OK. So what you’re saying is another explanation could be that they’re not laughing at you. They’re just laughing together at a joke. Yeah, I guess so. Yeah? Yeah. OK. What about this whole passing the ball thing? So you said they don’t pass the ball to you, and then you feel that they don’t like you. Well they don’t pass the ball as much as what they used to. And because of that, I don’t think like me. Mm. So that’s one way of looking at it, isn’t it? Yeah. Yeah.
Is there any other reason why they might not be passing the ball to you? Well I do get marked a lot by the opposition. Do you? Because I am a good player, because I am on the team. Mm-hm. But there’s lots of good players on the team. And I guess you can pass the ball to other people. Because that’s what makes it a team and a game, doesn’t it? So good point. So I could do that. So what you’re saying is actually another explanation could be that you are being marked by the other team, and so therefore, they’re not passing it to you all the time.
And actually, there are other good players as well, so they get the ball sometimes too. Yeah. Yeah. OK. So I mean, having thought it through, do you think you would feel able to just go along today and just see what it’s like? [SIGHS] Yeah. I like playing hockey. Mm-hm. And they are nice. So maybe I should go along. Mm-hm. Have a practise. I think that would be really great. Yeah. I will go. OK. Great. And then maybe, I don’t know, when you come back, we could have a really nice meal or something. I could cook you one of your favourite meals. Well, the girls go for a milkshake after practise and after a match.
So I might go along with them, and we might have something to eat. So I don’t know if I’ll be home. OK, well just send me a text and let me know. OK. OK. I will. Shall we pause it there then? Yeah. OK. How did that feel to you sort of from Emma’s point of view, I suppose, being asked those sort of questions? Well, I felt quite positive. What was glass? Depression glasses. Yes. OK. Yeah. Sorry. So we didn’t talk about that yet, did we? No. So Emma and I have talked about wearing depression glasses. And basically the idea behind that is when you’re depressed, you tend to see things in a pretty negative way.
So it’s a bit like wearing some gloomy glasses, where all the information coming through kind of gets sort of coloured by the gloomy glass. So even positive bits of information become a bit negative by the time they reach you. Oh, I see. So the idea is for Emma to kind of recognise that maybe sometimes she’s wearing those gloomy glasses and to maybe take them off and think about things differently. Like the glass half full instead of half empty. Absolutely. Yeah. So a different perspective. How did that feel from Emma’s point of view? As Emma, I felt a lot more positive about things and that I’d worked things out for myself.
As much it was good to talk with mum and get the problem out, it was good that I came up with some of the solutions myself as to why I was feeling low and rationalise it, that it’s not as bad as it looks and to see things in a more positive light. Yeah. Brilliant. So how confident do you feel about maybe trying this yourself with Emma? Better. Better. Definitely better. I’m still a bit nervous about things, but I feel a lot more positive about able to do it now. Brilliant. I’ve got some handouts for you to help you to do that and some ideas about the questions to ask and the conversations to have.
If you could just have a go, see how it feels, and then, we can talk about it next time. OK, then. That’s great. Thank you very much. OK.

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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