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Cognitive Distortions


Disclaimer—I am not a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist but do use aspects of CBT in my work. Music therapists do not diagnose cognitive distortions but can help clients learn strategies to deal with them.

I’ve been thinking about cognitive distortions this week. Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that affect how we see ourselves, our problems, and the world around us. It’s the negative self talk that keeps us from achieving our potential. One of the best known and regarded sources on cognitive distortions is the book The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, MD. Check out his website here for some great resources. We have all experienced these distortions at one time or another, likely when we are tired or hungry. It is when these patterns persist or lead to inappropriate actions or words that it becomes a problem. In addition, many of our children that struggle with emotional regulation also struggle with these patterns of thinking.

Some examples are “All or nothing thinking”, “discounting the positive”, and “magnification”. It depends on which source you look at as to how many cognitive distortions there are but many relate to each other or fall into similar categories. All or nothing thinking is when we think that one mistake, one bad review, etc. means that we are no good and we can’t achieve whatever it is that we have set out to do. Discounting the positive means that we always have a reason that anything good said about us doesn’t count. Magnification is the old concept of making a mountain out of a molehill. Problems seem bigger than they really are.

Sometimes knowing that is the way we are thinking is enough to help us break free of negative patterns of thought. You can make a playlist of songs that help you feel better. Listen to the messages the lyrics send. Choose ones that are positive.

If you work with kids, I highly suggest checking out the Social Thinking Website. One of their best known resources is the Superflex curriculum. Resources are grouped by age level and are very user friendly. Remember that young children may not be able to identify their own emotions. Also keep it simple. I’m a big fan of the Five Point scale but a younger or less self-aware child may only be able to distinguish between a big feeling and a little feeling. Music can be a great tool for teaching what to do when emotions get too big.

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