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What is “Fortune Telling”?

Fortune telling is one of the most common cognitive distortions, and no, it does not involve a crystal ball. Fortune Telling is a thought process, in which people tend to believe that they can predict the negative outcomes of an event. This prediction is often developed without any sound logic or reasoning; people just believe that something bad will happen without (actually) knowing. For example, someone who uses this way of thinking may be worried their partner is unfaithful because they did not answer their phone.

How is Fortune Telling harmful?

Though common, fortune telling can be harmful to the individuals who exhibit this thought pattern as it is highly associated with anxiety and depression. People who attempt to predict these outcomes are often not considering all the plausible outcomes that may be more realistic. These individuals may also not be using any evidence to support these thoughts. Fortune telling is similar to another cognitive distortion, catastrophizing, which is where people may view a situation as worse than it is. These thoughts are harmful because they may lead to a person feeling scared, sad, or angry. These feelings then lead a person to behave in a way that would be uncharacteristic of them. For example, the person who assumed their partner was being unfaithful may feel angry, which may lead to an unwarranted fight with their partner.

How can I manage fortune telling?

In order for fortune telling to be accurate and useful, we would need to be able to predict the future. This would be amazing, but the reality is that the future is unpredictable. Realizing and accepting this is the first step to combatting this way of thinking. Second, it’s important to understand that we cannot predict or control the future; we can only do our best. We may work hard and not get the outcome we wanted, this is okay and does not mean that every outcome will be negative. Finally, it’s important to actively challenge this way of thinking when we notice it happening. We can do this by identifying evidence that both proves and disproves this thought (evidence should be objective; e.g., what you saw or heard). Next, develop a more balanced and reasonable thought. Your therapist can also help you challenge these thoughts through CBT through records and other activities.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.