188: How to Crush Negative Thoughts: The Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit!

This is the first in a series of podcasts by David and Rhonda focusing on the best techniques to crush each of the ten cognitive distortions in David’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

David and Rhonda discuss the amazing positive feedback that Rhonda received following her two recent podcasts doing live personal work. David emphasizes that being open and genuine about your own flaws and insecurities can often lead to far more meaningful relationships with others. This is a paradox, since we often hide our shortcomings, fearing others will judge and reject us if they see how we really feel, and how flawed we are.

David and Rhonda begin the discussion of the Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit with a review the three principles of cognitive therapy:

  1. Our positive and negative feelings do NOT result from what happens in our lives, but rather from our thoughts about what’s happening or what happened.
  2. Depression and anxiety result from distorted, illogical, misleading thoughts. What you’re telling yourself is simply not true. Depression and anxiety are the world’s oldest cons.
  3. When you change the way you THINK, you can change the way you FEEL. This can usually happen rapidly and without drugs.

The first idea goes back at least 2,000 years to the teachings of the Greek Stoic philosophers. Although the idea that our thoughts create all of our feelings is very basic, and enlightening, many people still don’t get it! This even includes lots of therapists who wrongly believe that our feelings result from what’s happening to us!

David describes an innovative “Pepper Shaker” game devised by George Collette, one of his colleagues in Philadelphia to make the hospitalized psychiatric patients aware, through personal experience, that their feelings really do result from their thoughts. The game can be done in a group setting, and is entertaining. Rhonda suggested that the therapists who attend David’s Tuesday training group at Stanford might enjoy this game as well!

There are key differences between healthy and unhealthy negative emotions. Healthy negative feelings, like sadness, remorse, or fear, also result from our thoughts, and not from what is happening to us. However, the negative thoughts that trigger healthy feelings are valid and don’t need to be treated or changed. In contrast, unhealthy negative feelings, like depression, neurotic guilt, or anxiety, always result from distorted negative thoughts.

David and Rhonda briefly describe each of the ten cognitive distortions, with examples. They warn listeners that the goal of these podcasts will be to learn how to change your own distorted thoughts, and not someone else’s. Pointing out the distortions in someone else’s thoughts or statements is obnoxious and will nearly always lead to conflict. David and Rhonda do a humorous role-play to illustrate just how incredibly annoying it is when you try to correct someone else’s distortions, or when someone tries to correct your own distorted thoughts!

David and Rhonda remind listeners to focus on one negative thought from a Daily Mood Log, like “I’m defective” or “my case is hopeless,” and to remember that the thought will typically contain many distortions, and possibly all ten. This means that there will be lots of techniques—often 20 or more—to help you crush the thought.

They also discuss the new idea that you can do Positive Reframing with cognitive distortions as well as negative thoughts and feelings.

In the next podcast in this series, David and Rhonda will discuss the TEAM-CBT techniques that can especially helpful for the first distortion, All-or-Nothing Thinking.

David D. Burns, MD / Rhonda Barovsky, PsyD



You can reach Dr. Burns at Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and specializes in TEAM-CBT for depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. She can be reached at

Today’s featured photo is courtesy of Nancy Mueller–

If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett Van Donsel, you may download it here.

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This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great. It will be released in September of 2020, but you will soon be able to pre-order it on Amazon, possibly by the time you read this! 

Need Training or CE Credits?

Check Out these Awesome Upcoming Workshops!

The Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit:
How to Crush Negative Thoughts

With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt

May 17, 2020 | 7 CE hours. $135 (online only)

TEAM-CBT includes more than 100 powerful techniques to change the distorted thoughts that trigger negative emotions. But what techniques should I select for my patient who feels depressed, anxious, or angry?

As you know, in my book, Feeling Good, I listed the ten most common cognitive distortions, like All-or-Nothing Thinking, Should Statements, Emotional Reasoning, and more, and you probably use that list all the time in your clinical work. But do you know which techniques work the best for each distortion?

Come to this workshop and find out! You’ll learn with tons of cool techniques you can use every day to boost your clinical effectiveness.

This workshop will be live-streamed (and in person in Palo Alto, CA) so you can join from anywhere in the world! There will be many expert online helpers to assist you with the small-group exercises.

Move rapidly if you want to come. We are already SOLD OUT in person, but there are still slots available online.

There will be many helpers from the Feeling Good Institute to assist and guide you in the small group exercises in person and online as well.  Our last workshop on resistance in February was our most highly rated ever! We hope to make this a terrific and fun learning experience for you, too!

Learn More & Register

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2-Day Clinical Master Class

Rapid Recovery from Anxiety Disorders–
GAD, Phobias, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety,
OCD, PTSD and Health Anxiety

by David D. Burns, MD

June 4 – 5, 2020, Seattle, Washington

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The All-New Annual South San Francisco Intensive!

Enhanced Empathy Training

August 10 – 13, 2020

It’s Going to Be Awesome!

Videos, Live Demonstrations

Small Group Practice with

Personal Feedback and Mentoring,

and Chances for Personal Work and Healing

During this four-day intensive workshop you will learn:

  • How to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with challenging, difficult clients.
  • How to deal skillfully with people who refuse to open up and talk to you; won’t listen; are relentlessly critical, narcissistic or controlling; always have to be right; use, abuse, or exploit you; complain endlessly; are hostile, threatening or violent; as well as clients who are overwhelmed, hopeless and suicidal.
  • How to develop more loving relationships with the people you care about—as well as the ones you don’t.
  • Powerful new techniques to help clients who are struggling with conflicts with loved ones, friends, or colleagues.
  • How to deal with the inner chatter and powerful feelings that make it so difficult to deal with conflict when you feel angry or hurt.
  • How to identify and modify the self-defeating beliefs that make us vulnerable to conflicts with others.
  • How to identify and melt away the intense outcome and process resistance that make the treatment of relationship problems so challenging.

Learn More and Register

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Watch for the Awesome

December Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference

Anaheim, December 9 – 13, 2020

Sponsored by the Erikson Institute

It is always spectacular and I’ll be presenting, too!

Details TBA