Challenging Negative Thinking

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • The term ‘negative thinking' is really a catch-all that includes a number of negative thinking styles. Pretty well everyone is vulnerable to negative thinking but if these thoughts become locked into a cycle of rumination, the result is almost inevitably depression. One way to avoid depression is to acknowledge the existence of negative thinking, the various forms it takes, and then replace these with more adaptive and empowering alternatives.


    People with depression think negatively about themselves, their worlds and the future. They think in black and white terms and criticize themselves for perceived shortcomings, their lack of value, poor skills and general shortcomings. Any attempt at making change is viewed as futile and the future is seen as bleak and unrewarding.

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    Negative thinking results from the ways in which we interpret situations. As the bias is towards pessimism, the objective is to replace this with more balanced and sometimes more optimistic perspectives.


    A cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the emphasis on challenging negative thinking. The therapist will work with the client in an attempt to identify some specific situations where negative thinking is common and reconstruct the interpretation. This is not an easy process and some clients find the early stages particularly problematic. It requires concentration and a willingness to accept the likelihood that alternative thoughts are as valid, if not more so.


    The process normally begins by the client being asked to keep a log or diary of sorts. They are asked to identify one or more situations where negative thinking has been a feature and to unpack further the exact nature and content of the thoughts. Next, the client is asked to go back over what they have said and to separate fact from interpretation. Finally, alternative and more balanced thoughts are encouraged as alternatives to those based purely on interpretation.


    This way of challenging negative thinking is a form of problem solving that can have additional benefits. We rarely stop to reflect on ourselves and our thinking and the process can reveal practical blocks to your life goals.


    If you'd like to try the process you would probably benefit from a bit more detailed information. There are several books available on ways to challenge negative thinking, for example, Basco, M. (2006) The Bipolar Workbook: tools for controlling your moodswings. New York, Guilford Press.

Published On: June 22, 2009