The cognitive-behavioral model suggests that three layers of cognitive dysfunction exist in individuals struggling with social and/or psychological problems:
An automatic thought is a brief stream of thought about ourselves and others. Automatic thoughts largely apply to specific situations and/or events and occur quickly throughout the day as we appraise ourselves, our environment, and our future. We are often unaware of these thoughts, but are very familiar with the emotions that they create within us.
Intermediate beliefs can often be stated as conditional rules: “If x , then y.” For example, “If I am thin, then I will be loved by others.” Individuals create these assumptions by categorizing the information they receive from the world around them. These rules guide thoughts and subsequently influence behaviors.
Dysfunctional core beliefs drive dysfunctional rules and automatic thoughts. For example, the belief, I am unlovable, may be driving the conditional rule “If I am thin, then I will be loved by others” which may drive obsessive thinking about one’s appearance, excessive exercise, or disordered eating habits. Core beliefs are often formed in childhood and solidified over time as a result of one’s perceptions of experiences.
How to turn from dysfunctional to functional thoughts
Helpful questions to identify dysfunctional thoughts in CBT
Some strategies for modifying external stimuli may include:
The suggested protocol is as follows: