The Feeling Good Therapist - Explain The Distortions Technique

Explain The Distortions Technique with host, Richard Lam, LMFT, featuring Angela Poch, RPC

*This Technique was developed by Dr. David Burns, American Psychiatrist and Adjunct Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

This therapeutic role-play demonstrates how, with thoughtful guidance, one can challenge distorted beliefs and embark on a journey of positive reframing. In this insightful conversation from Feeling Good Institute, Richard and Angela illustrate the Distortions Technique, by Dr. David Burns, aimed at unraveling cognitive distortions.

Richard portrays a father facing the challenges of working from home, wrestling with feelings of self-doubt, particularly the pervasive belief that he is a bad father. Through this vivid role play, we witness the therapists Richard and Angela skillfully dissecting thinking errors in thought patterns, including all-or-nothing thinking, self-defeating beliefs, mental filtering, and the cognitive distortion of magnification. In magnification, Richard would be jumping to conclusions that he is a bad father without considering the positive contributions to his children's lives. This method for clarity guides individuals to shift their focus from self-criticism or destructive thinking to a balanced perspective. Richard reminds us that our self-worth extends far beyond our momentary missteps.


Richard: Hi everyone! Welcome to the Feeling Good Therapist where we'll learn different skills and tools as a therapist or just in your personal life and today we have Angela Poch, who will be helping us learn more about explaining the Distortions.

Angela: Thanks for having me here, Richard. So, explaining the distortions is one of my favourite tools and we do it right after or you can do it during identifying the distortions and so today we're going to do a role play where Rich is going to play a father who's feeling really down and overwhelmed working at home and so with that, I think we'll jump in and I think the negative thought we're going to choose to work on is, “I'm a bad father”. Okay so, Richard can you tell me do you see any distortion in that thought "I'm a bad father"?

Richard: Yeah, I guess that's kind of like or to look at that, it looks like all-or-nothing thinking.

Angela: Yeah, I agree. It's got some thinking, can you tell me, why it'd be an example of all-or-nothing thinking?

Richard: Well, it's kind of like the absolute either, I'm like good or bad, there's not like an in-between I guess.

Angela: Yeah, it's kind of like one or the other and not having that scale. Why would that be a thinking error? Why is or nothing a thinking error?

Richard: Well, I guess, it's kind of unfair to say it's like one or the other. There's usually kind of like the in-between that kind of makes more sense for the majority of people in the world.

Angela: Yeah, I think you're onto something there having this balance. Well, why would that be self-defeating to have this all-or-nothing view?

Richard: Well, I guess, if I kind of see it as this all-or-nothing kind of thing, it kind of makes me feel like horrible about myself. One day, it might be actually some good things that I'm doing as well.

Angela: Yeah, and kind of independent in a loop if you know, you're always just looking at one extreme side for sure. Well with that in mind, I know we only touched on one Distortion. Let's actually look at a couple more, do you see any other distortions in that thought that?

Richard: Maybe, there's this mental filter.

Angela: Mental filter? Sure, tell me why would this be an example of a mental filter?

Richard: You know, well, I think with mental filter from dwelling on you know like it's all the negative things that I've been doing like I got upset with my kids because I was really stressed and maybe raised my voice. But there are other good things that I've done. Of course, I kind of talk to them about it and I apologize but not only that but I do a lot of fun things with them and they even say that I'm a really great dad.

Angela: Yeah, getting some of those down because I've got some great stuff there. So, it's where you only see the one but you actually can see sometimes, where you have done things well, where you've done fun things with your kids and things like that. Why is that mental filter a thinking error and I think kind of touched on it with some of what you said but tell me a little bit more.

Richard: I'm just like so focused on the bad things that I've done but I really discount like all the good things that I've been doing as well or not even considering them.

Angela: Yeah and when you're not considering them why would that be self-defeating?

Richard: I guess, that's kind of self-defeating because it just makes me feel bad because I'm just so focused on this negative way of viewing myself rather than the whole picture.

Angela: Yeah, that when you're just focusing on the bad, makes you feel bad. And also, can you imagine if you've got this mental filter on? Would it be self-defeating because it's also no matter what good you do, it just gets filtered out?

Richard: Yeah, exactly, like I will never look at all the good things that I do and just kind of focus on the bad.

Angela: Yeah, well, let's do one more before we try to come up with a positive thought. Any other? What other Distortion stands out to you in this negative thought that you know I'm a bad father?

Richard: You know maybe the magnification.

Angela: I see magnification there too. Can you tell me why you see it there? Why is it an example of magnification?

Richard: Well, I guess, I might be kind of blowing this out of proportion a little bit here. Where just because I got really upset one time. I kind of jumped to the conclusion that I'm a bad father rather than kind of look at the big picture of things. And, at the end of the day, it's just kind of like one little thing and I'm sure a lot of parents get upset and raise their voice with their kids.

Angela: Yeah, I know, I have as a parent for sure. Why would that be a thinking error to magnify things?

Richard: Well, it's probably a thinking error because it's not the right like magnitude of how to view things and my kind of magnifying things out of proportion, just kind of makes me feel worse than the actual like thing that I can face.

Angela: And, why would that be self-defeating?

Richard: Well, I guess, it kind of makes it more challenging for me and kind of demotivates me from wanting to like to do more and like just feel horrible the rest of the day and I can't focus and nothing just goes right after that.

Angela: Yeah, makes it really hard to focus, if you're feeling worse and worse and if it's magnifying and magnifying and it's hard to see it for what it is. Yeah, we've said some really great things here, you talked about how you know, you're only focusing on the bad things, you're not considering some of the other things you do for your kids lots of fun things and that you're not quite the right magnitude and mentioned quite a few other little things. What might be a more helpful realistic thought to tell yourself instead of I'm a bad father? What might be a nicer way to say that to yourself?

Richard: Maybe, I'm a father, that sometimes makes mistakes but is always growing and improving and cares a lot about his kids.

Angela: I like that, how much do you believe that thought?

Richard: Oh, definitely, a hundred per cent!

Angela: And, how much do you believe the thought that I'm a bad father?

Richard: Well, I guess, it's not really true maybe like five per cent because I mean, there's always improvements I can make.

Angela: Yeah, I like that, as long as you improve for sure.

Richard: Yeah, great! Let’s pause this right there. Thank you, Angela. You did such a beautiful explanation of “Explain the Distortions” and if anyone wants to learn more about different tools and techniques, feel free to subscribe. If you want to learn more about Angela, you can look at the description below.

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