Trauma

How to deal with ‘triggers’ which remind you of a traumatic event

In this article, I discuss how to address the issue of having a strong emotional reaction to stimuli which remind you of a traumatic event. One of the most disturbing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event. This can take the form of flashbacks--memories, images, intrusive thoughts and nightmares associated with the event. In this article, I will focus on one additional type of persistent re-experiencing which is particularly unsettling--having a strong emotional reaction when you encounter people, places or other stimuli reminding you of the event. In the following sections, I will discuss the reasons for the strong emotional reaction to ‘triggers’ and what steps can be taken in and out of therapy to address this issue...[more]

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How to change your negative core beliefs

In this article, I discuss how to change thought patterns called negative core beliefs which often play a role in many psychological issues. In my last article, I discussed how to identify negative core beliefs--long-standing negative views people may have about themselves, other people in their lives or the world. These negative views usually originate from people’s difficult experiences and predispose them to think negatively about themselves, other people or the world in the present. They also play a major role in causing and maintaining various psychological issues including depression, the anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and eating disorders. In the following sections, I will discuss how to change negative core beliefs once they have been identified so that their negative influence on current thinking and mood can be reduced...[more]

How to identify your negative core beliefs

In this article, I discuss how to identify thought patterns called negative core beliefs which often play a role in many psychological issues. In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, much of my focus in helping clients is on identifying and changing negative thought patterns which contribute to their emotional distress. This ‘cognitive restructuring’ work typically entails examining clients’ negative thoughts in response to particular situations and events in their everyday lives. However, on some occasions I help my clients address negative thinking patterns which are rooted in their pasts...[more]

How to address thought suppression and its negative effects

In my last article, I discussed how trying not to think about something makes you think about it more and the negative effects which stem from this strategy. In this article, I discuss strategies to counteract this tendency to suppress thoughts and the disadvantages which come with it. As I discussed in my last article, engaging in thought suppression can contribute to several issues as a result of the strategy achieving the opposite of its intended effect. That is, trying not to think of something actually makes it more likely you will think of that something. When that ‘something’ is a disturbing thought, thought suppression can play a role in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). An obvious concern arises regarding alternatives to thought suppression which a person can use when disturbing thoughts enter their minds...[more]

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The futility of thought suppression and its negative effects

In this article, I discuss how trying not to think about something makes you think about it more and the negative effects which stem from this strategy. Here is an experiment for you to try with a friend: For the next five minutes, you can think of anything as long you do not think of a white bear sitting on your friend’s shoulder. You are likely to find during that time that you had difficulty thinking of anything other than a white bear sitting on your friend’s shoulder. The results of this experiment, which have been obtained consistently in research studies, point to the futility of trying not to think about something, a.k.a., thought suppression...[more]

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To err is human, but is to forgive really divine?

In this article, I discuss what it means to forgive and various factors to consider in deciding whether to forgive someone. Our culture has strong norms encouraging us to forgive those who have wronged us. These norms garner much of their impetus from various well-known statements on the subject. “To err is human, to forgive divine” is one of the most well-known quotations in history...[more]

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Reduce self-injury behaviours by addressing what lies beneath them

In this article, I discuss ways to reduce non-suicidal self-injury behaviours by targeting the factors leading to the behaviours. It may seem puzzling to an observer that someone would regularly choose to harm themselves through behaviours such as cutting, burning or head-banging. In reality, self-injury behaviours often represent ways of coping with various life issues much as many people use drinking, drugs, gambling, sex and various eating disorder behaviours for this purpose...[more]

Practice tolerating uncertainty to improve your moods

In this article, I discuss how moving away from the tendency toward reducing uncertainty can help you feel better in response to negative situations. In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, I have been influenced by the statements of many prominent people in my field. One such occasion was when I attended a talk given to the public by depression expert Dr. Michael Yapko. Dr. Yapko said that being able to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity is one of the most important skills a person can practice to overcome depression...[more]

A myth about cognitive behavioural therapy: It doesn’t focus on emotions

Contrary to what you may infer from its name, emotions play a central role in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In this article, I will give several examples of how CBT is in many ways ‘all about emotions’. For some time, I’ve considered ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ in certain respects to be an unfortunate name for the form of therapy in which I specialize. The name of a similar form of therapy which preceded CBT--rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)—is one which has certain advantages over the name cognitive behavioural therapy...[more]

Thought records: Great antidotes to ruminating

In this article, I discuss a tool you can use to feel better by changing your thinking when you’re dwelling on negative thoughts. If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself ruminating—dwelling on negative thoughts which lead to you to feel upset. For example, you can ruminate on worrisome thoughts leading you to experience intense anxiety such as...[more]