Cognitive Distortions, also known as

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

(This is not a complete list but only a sample).

1. "Musterbation": I believe it was psychologist Albert Ellis who came up with this term to describe an inflexible type of thinking that makes a person feel awful. This can also be referred to as "should" or "have to" types of thoughts. For example, a young woman is invited to the beach on the first warm, sunny and beautiful day of Spring. All of her friends are going and it is most likely to be a wonderful experience. Instead of going, she tells her friends that she "must" stay home and clean the house. She remains home and ends up feeling miserable.


2. Generalizing: A young man is dating a girl who turns him down for a date because she is unavailable this weekend. He hangs up the phone with a heavy heart and a depressed feeling when he thinks to himself, "she hates me and I will never get another date with anyone ever."

3. Jumping to conclusions: Your boss calls you in to his office this morning to tell you that you took too long to complete an important task for a particular account. In fact, you have a wonderful record and this is your only error. You leave his office with a heavy heart and thoughts that, "I will be fired and he does not like me." In actuality, your boss is very grouchy this morning because of a fight he had at home, thinks very highly of you and even calls you in later to apologize for his miserable behavior. You spent the whole morning feeling depressed for no reason.

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4. Mental filtering: You have an ability to think with fine surgical skill. The trouble is that this so called skill gets you into trouble all the time because you minimize or reject the positive in your life while remembering and giving heavy weight to anything negative. In fact, you seem to learn only from the negative and make awful conclusions about yourself, while rejecting or downgrading anything positive that happens.


With regard to example number 4, Mental filtering and rejecting the positive, an important piece of research was recently done in the psychology department of Ohio State University. The study appears in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. What this very cleverly designed study showed was that depressed and non depressed people were equal in their ability to learn negative information. However, depressed people were far less capable of learning positive information. The study clearly showed that depressed people showed a bias against positive information. Everyone seems to remember negative events but those who are depressed have an easier time retaining the negative events.

Cognitive restructuring is one of the methods used in cognitive behavioral therapy. What this means is that more realistic and far less distorted ways of thinking are learned so that things like positive events are remembered and given more weight than was previously so.

However, along with cognitive restructuring methods such as meditation, deep muscle relaxation and visualization are used to help people relax and reduce stress, tension and worry.

Self Help: One of the nice things about all of this is that it is possible for people to learn the techniques of cognitive behavior therapy and use them to help themselves. Of course, if that does not succeed and depression persists then a consultation with a psychotherapist is always recommended.

So, see if you can replace your "stinkin thinkin" with more realistic and positive thoughts and memories. Remember that ancient song: "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,…"

Your comments and questions are always encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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