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It is not events themselves that cause distress, but our understanding of those events. The central belief in CBT is that people become distressed due their unhelpful or negative thinking. It is this negative automatic thinking that helps to maintain distress.

Key features of unhelpful thinking in psychological distress are;

  • Thoughts are automatic and often people are unaware of them
  • When distressed, automatic thoughts are unhelpful. By this is meant that these thoughts can be negative, self critical, blaming, predicting of the worst case scenario etc.
  • They are believable at the time of thinking them.
  • Everybody has these unhelpful thoughts and they would upset anybody.

When people become depressed their thinking changes and takes on a selective bias. 

People tend to think more about the past and particularly to think about negative things that happened in the past and in particular their role in those negative events. This is what is meant by a selective bias. As a result people begin to think about the present in the same negative way.

It is important to note that almost everyone thinks that only they feel this way, and it can be reassuring to know that this is something that happens to everyone. 

The important thing is to begin to notice unhelpful thinking and learn to deal with it, and later when feeling well again to use this skill as a helpful way of preventing relapse.

Click here for some thinking styles from the Get Self Help website.

I am so depressed

I’m stupid

I feel so low

No-one likes me

I can’t cope

I’m scared

I’m useless

I’m stressed

I’m worried

What’s the point?

I am so angry

I just need someone to talk to

I can’t do this

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