The Feeling Good Therapist - Stop Negative Thinking with the Straight Forward Technique

Stop Negative Thinking with the Straight Forward Technique with host, Richard Lam, LMFT, featuring Kevin Cornelius, M.A., LMFT

*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.

The Straightforward Technique is a powerful method devised by Dr. David Burns, designed to help individuals in confronting and reframing negative thoughts. In this enlightening discussion at the Feeling Good Institute, Richard and Kevin explore a CBT technique applicable for both therapy and daily life. Richard takes on the role of a client struggling with social anxiety and low self esteem. His pervasive negative belief revolves around the idea that attending a party is a surefire path to embarrassment. The technique explores a series of three questions aimed at guiding the client toward a more positive thought. First, the technique prompts the client to challenge the validity of their initial negative thought, leading to the formulation of a more optimistic perspective. Next, it encourages reflection on whether the thought does more harm than good by discouraging social interaction. A shift occurs when Richard is faced with the last question where he considers the negative consequences of persistently embracing this thought, revealing a pattern of isolation and self-criticism. 

This stop thought approach example underscores the notion that negative thoughts hinder rather than help. Individuals can challenge and reshape their thought patterns, fostering a mindset rooted in self-confidence, connection and growth. Richard shows how this tool is applicable beyond therapy, offering a roadmap to break free from the constraints of self-limiting beliefs.


Richard: Hey everyone, this channel is to learn more about different therapy techniques that you can use in your personal life or even in your therapy practice. The technique that we're going to go over today is called the Straightforward Technique by Kevin Cornelius.

Kevin: Hi Richard, it's good to see you. Thanks for having me here. We're going to be using this method called the Straight Forward Technique, and I believe, Richard, you're going to be in the role of a therapy client with me who has come for some help with social anxiety. And we've determined that you've been having this negative thought: "If I go to this party, I will embarrass myself." That's the thought that you've chosen for us to work on today. Does that sound good?

Richard: That sounds great.

Kevin: Yeah, so thanks Richard for choosing this thought. I want to start with working on this thought using a method called the Straight Forward Technique. This is a powerful technique that's rather simple but has a big effect. Basically, what we're going to be doing is answering three questions about this thought, that’s going to help us come up with a positive thought. That we’re hoping is going to prove that your original negative thought is not true and then change the way you're feeling. That sound good, can we give it a try?

Richard: Yeah, let's do it!

Kevin: The thought again is if I go to this party “I will embarrass myself”. And the first question that I want to ask you is what are the flaws in this thought, like what are some errors that you see or some things that might not be true about this thought?

Richard: Well it's not really guaranteed that I'll embarrass myself and you know I've been to other parties before and I really didn't embarrass myself when I went.

Kevin: Absolutely yeah! Let's make sure we write that down. You said that it's not a guarantee that you're going to embarrass yourself and that you've been to other parties before and didn't embarrass yourself, right? So, we'll make sure we'll write that down. And then the second question I want to ask you is, how does it hurt you to tell yourself this thought, like when you have the thought if I go to this party I will embarrass myself, is that holding you back in some way or is it doing some kind of harm to you?

Richard: Yeah, when I have this thought, it really discourages me from going to these parties and at the end of the day, I just don't go out and connect and I just feel even more lonely, and upset with myself that I didn't go and I beat up on myself because of it.

Kevin: Oh wow! So it discourages you, it causes loneliness and it also leads you to beating yourself up for choosing not to go. Did I get that right?

Richard: Yeah exactly!

Kevin: Yeah! That sounds really hard and I think that those are really good examples for us to use of how the thought is harming us, so let's make sure we write that down too. And then the third question is what do you imagine the possible negative consequences would be if you were to keep believing this thought and telling yourself this?

Richard: Well, if I continue like telling myself this then at the end of the day, I'm just never going to go out and meet people and connect with people in this town opportunities and maybe my friends will stop inviting me to these parties and then I'll just kind of isolate and be alone forever.

Kevin: Wow! Okay, those are very bad consequences so let's make sure we write those down, I think that's exactly what we're looking for here. So I thought I heard you say that you'll, if you keep telling yourself this you'll never go out you're going to miss opportunities to meet people your friends are going to stop inviting you to things and you're just going to spend all of your time isolated and alone. Did I get that right?

Richard: Yeah, absolutely it sounds pretty bad now I'm thinking about it.

Kevin: Yeah, so I just want to check in with you and make sure that you wrote down those great answers that you gave me to all three of those questions or do you have them written on your paper right there in front of you?

Richard: Yeah.

Kevin: Okay. So, how about if you just read to me the answers that you wrote down into those three questions?

Richard: Yeah, so for the first one, how does the thought harm or actually, the first one is what is wrong with this thought. It's wrong because it's not true. Because, I don't really embarrass myself these other moments, like at other parties and where this is never really happens. In terms of why this thought hurts or harms me, it kind of puts me in a situation where it discourages me from going to different parties and connecting with other people. And really the consequence, which is the last question you asked me, is that, I continue to believe this thought, I’d continue not going to parties, and that people might stop inviting me because I keep saying no. Eventually, I kind of isolate and kind of like alone and feel lonely.

Kevin: So, the answer to those three questions that you just read to me and have written down there. How much do you believe in those things, between zero and a hundred percent?

Richard: That pretty much feels a hundred percent true, if I continue to go to these parties because of this.

Kevin: Yeah. Maybe just make a note to yourself right now. You know, belief a hundred percent, right. And then the last question I have for you: if those things are a hundred percent true that you just read to me, now how much do you believe, if I go to this party, I will embarrass myself?

Richard: It does definitely feels less true here, especially given that I haven't embarrassed myself before. I'm just going to go and talk to people, and maybe I'm really quiet, but I don't really embarrass myself. So, it's not really true, maybe zero percent. I don't really see anyone embarrassing themselves.

Kevin: Yeah, let's put down then a zero percent belief next to your negative thought there. And you know, I'm wondering, what do you think about that? What's it like for you to take your belief in that thought down to zero?

Richard: Well, I'm just like really surprised to kind of see this thought, because not only do I kind of see that it's not true, but it's been like really harming me in a lot of ways and also creates a lot of negative consequences. I'm glad, I didn't kind of stop this now and kind of go to more parties, rather than continue this pattern and kind of isolate. So, it's actually really helpful for me to kind of go through this.

Kevin: Wonderful!

Richard: Let's pause right there on this role-play. That was a really awesome technique by Kevin Cornelius, the Straight forward technique. If you want to learn more about these different therapy techniques, feel free to subscribe, and you can find more about Kevin Cornelius in the descriptions below.

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