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Disputing unhelpful cognitions and generating alternatives

Video Type: In Practice

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  • Summary

David and Jacques “Disputing unhelpful cognitions and generating alternatives” Scenario Background Jacques is currently separated from his wife Ali. They have three children: Ellie, 9, and Phil, 10, and Max, 14. Jacques wants to review what he calls “negative patterns” in his relationship with Ali and to some extent the children with the hope of becoming reconciled. The focus of his talks with David here is a scenario that repeats itself when he is with his family: he is in the middle of telling a story or holding forth on some topic and they tune him out, turn to each other, pick up other conversation threads, and leave him stranded. He says he sometimes responds to this by withdrawing and becoming silent, quietly hurt and angry. At other times, he becomes indignant about “his right to be heard” and challenges them angrily, which alienates them rather than promoting intimacy, and has ended at times in him storming out of the room. Video Introduction This exchange is a follow-up to the conversation entitled Identifying exceptions to unhelpful cognitions. David and Jacques pick up on Jacques' observation that what goes on with his wife is different than the pattern that plays out with his kids. They review the self-talk that dominates in those exchanges. In doing so, Jacques is aware he is not sure the self-talk is “true.” This comment provides an opening to disputing the self-talk. How does David re-invite Jacques back into evaluating this pattern of relating with his wife in reference to the ABC sequence? David employs Socratic dialogue to invite Jacques to question the validity of the claims and to consider alternatives. What alternative self-talk emerges which appears to offer more helpful consequences in the moment? What questions does David ask to identify this helpful self-talk? How do David and Jacques deal with Jacques' lingering doubts about whether this alternative self-talk will indeed be useful? What aspects of this practice might you have done similarly/differently? Video Analysis Unhelpful self talk is not generated out of thin air; it is grounded in life experience and not easily dislodged. While David and Jacques don't seem to have too much trouble disputing the belief that Ali simply wants to “shut out” Jacques, he is nevertheless not sure the alternative belief (“Ali is bubbly and social and easily distracted”) will be convincing in the moment. In the spirit of this critical inquiry into Jacques' experience, David deliberately assumes a “devil's advocate” position here, pressing Jacques to anticipate what might come up for him in one of those moments that often goes off the rails. Jacques imagines that he might conclude that he is being “treated like a rug,” a belief that brings him back to feelings of anger, hurt, and righteous indignation. At the same time, Jacques labels this response as “childish,” which is a clear statement that he would prefer to respond differently in these situations. These reflections from Jacques provide a foundation he and David to try to respond differently in the coming days, aided by some alternative self-talk. As Jacques says towards the end of the exchange, it can't hurt in that his experiment with shifting his beliefs will almost certainly lead to less conflict.

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