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More PsychNotes: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

July 31, 2018       

To Effectively Use the Cognitive Diary Limit Your Evaluation
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Cognitive Diary app icon

The CBT Tools for Healthy Living app helps you to determine some ways to challenge the irrational thinking. Once you have done that, it is important to read the rational challenges frequently until they automatically come to mind rather than the irrational thinking.

Many times when thinking is changed about a situation problems can be resolved more easily. Using the cognitive diary method can aid in this process. To learn more about the cognitive diary and Excel At Life's Cognitive Diary app, read Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

The one complaint about the Cognitive Diary app that I refuse to change is that the user can only select up to six irrational beliefs for each entry. Although other complaints are related to the usability of the app, this issue is related to the effectiveness of the technique. I did relent somewhat and raised the limit to six from three but I recommend only selecting two or three.

Several problems occur when a person chooses too many irrational beliefs:

1) Overwhelming. When I worked with clients who wrote their cognitive diaries on paper they weren't likely to select more than a few irrational beliefs when evaluating the distressing event. However, the app makes it easy to check any irrational belief that is even remotely a possibility. Unfortunately, when a person views a long list of irrational beliefs that need to be changed it can become overwhelming and confusing about where to start.

2) Hopelessness. When a person becomes overwhelmed it can result in hopelessness: “There's so much wrong with my thinking, I'll never be able to change. Why should I even bother?” As a result, using the cognitive diary can backfire and prevent change.

3) Encourages perfectionism. Some of the users who want to select every possible irrational belief are perfectionists. They often feel that to obtain benefit from something they must do it perfectly. “Or, why do it at all?” The limit prevents them from focusing on perfection and instead the focus is on change.

4) Discourages thoughtful reflection. Contemplating a couple beliefs can allow for a more complete understanding of the irrational thinking and how to challenge it. As I say in much of my writing, you are more likely to be successful if you concentrate on accomplishing small goals. Each small step leads to success.

If you really feel a need to select more irrational beliefs about an event you wrote about, it might be better to split the event into more than one diary entry. By doing so you can be more clear about what the irrational belief pertains which allows you to develop ways to challenge it.

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Dr. Monica Frank

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