From social anxiety disorder to violence in interpersonal relationships up to post-traumatic stress. Socratic dialogue on irrational thoughts and their modification becomes the basis of all psychological visits.
Cognitive restructuring is one of the techniques par excellence of any psychological treatment. It seems to have crossed the well-defined boundaries of the different psychological currents, always in conflict with each other to demonstrate which is the most legitimate, the most useful or the most effective.
With cognitive restructuring, which can be used on the basis of the psychologist’s evaluations and be useful until the end of the therapy, we try to identify the irrational thoughts of the subject and find alternative thoughts that can replace them. The most important thing is that the person is able to understand the negative impact of irrational thoughts on his mood, his way of thinking and his behavior.
During the therapy with cognitive restructuring, the subject will be able to identify his irrational thoughts and replace them with more appropriate ones.
However, when it is time to analyze these thoughts, people often get confused by elaborating positive thoughts instead of rational thoughts.
Differences between irrational and rational thoughts
Irrational thoughts produce very unpleasant emotional responses. These can range from anger to bitterness to terror. Usually, they last a long time and are expressed using absolute terms (for example, with the use of adverbs such as “never” or “always”). In turn, these thoughts and consequent reactions relate to what a person needs to be happy; what he should do or have, that is, to self-imposed demands.
In most cases, they are unverifiable and unverifiable thoughts. Conversely, rational thoughts are verifiable and generate less intense emotions. In place of anger, displeasure; instead of bitterness, resignation; instead of terror, fear. Generally, imperative verbs are not used, but conditionals that take our thoughts away from the concept of necessity.
It is important to emphasize that anger does not replace happiness, bitterness cannot be replaced by satisfaction, or courage does not take the place of terror. Rational thinking must be realistic and appropriate to the situation. Working it out in overly positive terms could turn it into irrational thinking.
Furthermore, if during the sessions the subject interprets positive thoughts as alternative and rational thoughts, he will almost certainly not be able to produce them. His particular mood and negative outlook will make this task very difficult.
A practical example of irrational thoughts: Patrizia is fired
Let’s imagine that a 40-year-old woman named Patrizia loses her job at the bank. The irrational thoughts that can upset Patrizia are: “I’ll never find a job again”, “I’m useless”, “I should have worked more”. As we have already seen, it uses absolute terms without a demonstrable empirical basis. Furthermore, everything is lived in a context of necessity and duty.
With practice, Patrizia can develop more appropriate alternative rational thoughts such as: “I don’t know if I will find a job again, but I will do everything possible to find it”; “I lost my job, but I’m not a useless person for that, they just fired me, but that has nothing to do with my value as a person.” Or, “I could have worked longer hours, but I don’t know if that’s what caused my firing.”
As you can see, it does not use absolute terms and does not rush to conclusions by giving itself negative labels due to an external event.
Altered positive thinking
It may also happen that Patrizia does not know how to replace irrational thoughts appropriately or that she has not understood the explanations and guidelines that have been given to her. He might believe that, in this situation, the alternative to irrational thoughts is: “Tomorrow I will find a job and earn as in a bank”; “I’m the best worker there is and my skills far exceed those of others” or “I’m sure working longer hours has nothing to do with my firing. It only happened because my boss doesn’t like me. “
Contrary to popular culture beliefs, positive thinking does not mean that everything will go as you hope. Thinking in this way has pitfalls.
Authors like Barbara Ehrenreich or Derren Brown tell us about the negative side of extremely positive thinking. Sometimes, as we have said, these thoughts have traps. They can create misconceptions based on inferences that have no empirical basis.
Rational vs positive, something to work on during therapy
It is vitally important to make judgments properly. In irrational thoughts they can be negative (and in part they are), but also positive.
While the former can cause exaggerated emotional responses, the latter can provoke intense reactions when it is not possible to satisfy them, because they are based on untrue facts or information. In these cases, excessive expectations are generated and we think in absolute terms.
It is also important that, during therapy, special attention is paid to the patient so that he can understand the parameters on which rational thinking is based. For this purpose, at first, it is advisable to start the sessions with examples and metaphors and then work on the person’s irrational thoughts.
It is therefore important to start by providing the patient with preliminary training so that he can be able to formulate, day after day, alternative thoughts in the most correct, effective and useful way.