The Hidden Treasure

Where Ancient Wisdom Meets Contemporary Psychology

What Are You Thinking About?

Written By: Vic Rebman Ph.D - Jun• 26•13

One of the first Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions I happened upon as I began my studies was a simple, yet powerful exercise by Dr. David Burns called the Stick Figure Technique.  (For more information, you can reference his book, “Ten Days to Self-Esteem”).  The purpose of this exercise is to assist individuals in restructuring their thinking; reframing their negative thoughts and thinking patterns into positive thoughts and thinking patterns.

Awareness is a powerful thing.  In my work with individuals, I have found that many of my clients are simply unaware of how their negative thoughts and perceptions are influencing their daily lives.  That’s what I LOVE about this technique; it is a simple, yet effective way to heighten an individuals awareness of their control over their thoughts.

As I’ve noted above, you can find more information on this technique in Dr. Burn’s book.  There is a particular worksheet he has created to facilitate this exercise.  To add to this worksheet, I like to bring out the good ol’ white board.  This, of course, is a favorite among my younger clients!  They wiggle with excitement and glee at the opportunity to draw and erase on the white board!!  In this exercise, they create two miniature versions of themselves: one of their selves is sad, the other is happy.  Through discussion and interaction, I participate in a psychoeducational lesson to teach them about the connection between their thoughts and emotions; a powerful lesson even many adults fail to understand.  Over the course of a few sessions, a new skill has been learned, awareness has been heightened, and a newfound feeling of self-control blossoms.  It is my pleasure to have this experience with children and adults every day!

One of my favorite successes was an 8 year old client of mine; a young lady full of love for others, a heart of gold, and a very talented mind!  Unfortunately, her strengths were clouded by her inner struggles: self-doubt, extreme fear of embarrassment in front of her peers, low self-confidence in academics, and poor self-esteem.  After being diagnosed with a mathematics disorder, she felt torn down and frustrated.  One day, she was called up to the front of her classroom to participate in a timed mathematics exercise.  All of her peers’ eyes were on her…the pressure was extremely emotionally overwhelming…her peers began to laugh…  Voila!  In one instant, her struggle with mathematics became even more profound and debilitating.

Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work with this young girl following her experience.  Through a safe and strong therapeutic relationship, her open-mind, a few sessions focused on this technique, and psychoeducational lessons facilitated by myself, she is now able to confidently complete timed mathematical exercises in class, even when she is asked to complete timed math in front of her peers!

If you dig deep into an individual’s cognitive struggles, what is at the heart of the issue?  Possibly a deep self-distrust?  A negative personal schema or worldview?  Self-defeat?  Self-hatred?  A profound feeling of incompetence?  An extreme fear of embarrassment?  A low self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-worth?  Possibly…

It is empowering to discover that your thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are in your control!  Yes, there are certainly things in this world that are very much out of our control.  But, what we choose to focus on, think, and feel is up to us.  Every day we choose to love ourselves, or tear ourselves apart.  What are you doing?  What are you teaching your children?  What can you change?

Comments are welcomed!

By Lauren Rebman, LMFTA

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