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In this series about how psychologists can help people with anxiety and depression, I’ve been talking about how a psychologist teaches people to do critical thinking about their own thoughts. At Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, teaching people to notice and challenge their thoughts is a big focus in counseling.

So far we have covered 6 types of thoughts that tend to get people stuck: All or Nothing thinking, using a Mental Filter, Jumping to Conclusions, Emotional Reasoning, Labelling, and Over Generalizing.Today I’ll reveal the final four thoughts that may lead to anxiety or depression if you have them too often.

The Final 4 Types of Anxiety and Depression Automatic Thoughts:

  • Disqualifying The Positives

When we have these types of thoughts we are discounting the good things that have happened, or the good things we have done, for some reason. For example, “my idea really wasn’t that good…after all I never would have come up with it if we weren’t talking about your problem.” “I only got a raise because it was time for my annual review and everyone gets an annual raise.” When we have these types of thoughts we are basically saying that we are not deserving of good things, or that our work didn’t count. Many times this happens when we have perfectionist ideas about how our life should be going, or how we should be working. Read about some ways to get over perfectionism.

  • Magnification (Catastrophizing or Minimizing)

This can be a biggie, especially for many people I work with who worry a lot. With these types of thoughts, we blow things out of proportion (catastrophize) or inappropriately shrink something to make it seem like it’s not that important (minimize). For example, “If I fail this test at work, they will fire me and then I’ll never get another job. Who is going to hire someone who can’t even pass this test? And if I can’t work then I’ll lose the house and end up homeless!” Or (minimization) “the doctor said I have diabetes but that it’s not too bad. Until it gets worse I’m not going to work on making any changes to my eating or exercise…I’ve made it this far with nothing too bad happening…it’ll be fine.” The problem with these types of thinking is that we make predictions that are highly unlikely (catastrophizing) or that we don’t appropriately act on information out of fear.

  • Should/Must

With these types of thoughts, we focus on how you think things SHOULD be instead of how they actually are or you think you, or others, MUST do something in order to be good enough. For example “He should already know how to do that….I’ve showed him once before!” or “I must always eat well or I’ve failed at changing my eating habits.” Getting stuck in the “should” or “must” trap leads to feelings of anxiety and depression because you, and others, have a hard time living up to expectations that may not be rooted in the reality.

  • Personalization

With personalization we tend to take on too much of the blame for something negative happening. We think it’s all our fault. This type of thought occurs a lot in relationships “the marriage ended because I failed” or “if I had only been a stay at home mom my son wouldn’t have problems learning.” The problem with this type of thinking is that we don’t pay attention to what else influenced the outcome and we take all the blame.

How Does A Psychologist Work with THESE Anxiety and Depression Thoughts?

    • When a psychologist hears clients “Disqualifying the Positives” they will ask the client to critically think about those thoughts. For example, they might say “these things don’t count because…?” or “How would others view your efforts? If someone else were in your shoes would you view their efforts/them in the same way you are viewing yourself?”


    • When a psychologist hears “Magnification” as a persistent way of thinking they will encourage the person to answer the “what if” questions that are leading to catastrophic thinking. “What if you lost your job…what would you do then?” A psychologist might also help the person recognize that not everything in within their control and that be catastrophizing that doesn’t provide any more control. Here’s a great video with additional tips on how to change catastrophizing thoughts:      When a person “minimizes” the psychologist can help the person consider the pros and cons of making something less important than it is.


    • When a psychologist hears “Shoulds/Must” frequently these questions can be helpful: 1) Are their people who do not have the same “should/must” rule? What do you think of those people? 2) Do you have the same rules for others as you do for yourself? Why?, 3) How does it feel if you replaced “should/must” with prefer?” I like how this video explains the problems of the “shoulds/musts”

  • When a psychologist hears a client who “Personalizes” a lot, the psychologist can help get the client unstuck from this anxious and depressive way of thinking by asking the person to make a pie chart and really think about what other causes influenced a particular event. Another challenge to this thought it to consider what the clients’ intentions were, or understand the difference between being self-critical versus self-correcting (what can you learn from this? What could you do differently in the future?).

Throughout this series on how a psychologist can help people with anxiety and depression, encouraging a person to develop critical thinking skills about their thoughts is just one aspect of counseling. Remember, our thoughts are like that popcorn machine…they keep popping up and the more we hear our own thoughts, the more likely we are to believe them, regardless of the truth of those thoughts.

When we get into a habit of having negative, automatic thoughts such as All or Nothing Thinking, using a Mental Filter, Jumping to Conclusions, Emotional Reasoning, Labelling, Over Generalizing, Disqualifying the Positives, Catastrophizing or Minimizing, having Should/Must rules, or Personalizing things that can lead to anxiety and depression. So…get into the habit of noticing, and questioning your thoughts before you take them to heart. If you want to learn more about how psychologist work check out this link (http://legacycounselingservice.com/psych-resources/). If mental health counseling might be beneficial for you, please give me a call at 539-777-1129 and we can talk about what you need and if counseling would be helpful.

newbio1Dr. Leedy is a psychologist at Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She helps people in Tulsa and the surrounding communities (via face to face counseling or secure online counseling) improve anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. She’s a strong believer in not being bullied by our own thoughts! Check out her website at www.legacycounselingservice.com to learn more about how she can help you!

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