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What is a thought record and how do I do one?

Roamers Therapy | September 2023

You may have heard your therapist or someone else use the term “thought record” before. Perhaps you’ve even done one yourself without even realizing! A thought record is an essential element to the beginning processes of cognitive behavioral therapy. To put it simply, a thought record helps you to build the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Oftentimes, a thought record will be used to help you begin to challenge your irrational or distorted automatic thoughts. It also allows you to bring an awareness to your thoughts in order to learn more about yourself and how your mind responds to situations. 

How do I do a thought record?

First, create yourself a chart with four columns labeled Situation, Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors. This chart can act as a daily log for you to practice recording your automatic thoughts. 

Situation: Identify what was going on for you. What is the context? 

Example: You studied many hours for an exam and didn’t get the grade you were 

     hoping for on it.

Thoughts: Identify your automatic thoughts. What immediately ran through your mind? 

Example: “I’m such a bad student. I’m so stupid. I’m going to fail.”

Emotions: Identify what you were feeling in this moment. What was the intensity of this 

      feeling? (on a scale of 1-10)

Example: Inferior, upset, depressed, worthless

Behavior: Identify your behavioral response. What did you do? 

Example: You start to think negatively of yourself and don’t change your study habits or 

    seek help on the next exam. You might believe it won’t matter and you will just 

   fail again. 

As you continue to log your automatic thoughts, feelings, and behavior, you might start to see what situations are especially triggering for you or begin to identify patterns in your automatic thoughts. It is so easy to think and feel without realizing its impact on your behavior. This exercise will help you develop an increased awareness of how intertwined your thoughts, emotions, and behavior really are. The next step in this exercise will be to start replacing your automatic thoughts with an alternative thought. This means you will practice reframing your automatic thoughts to challenge yourself to think differently in the situations that trigger negative automatic thoughts. 

Thought records serve as a helpful tool to begin training your mind to recognize this connection between your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It is an exercise you can start practicing on your own. Then, you can talk to your therapist about what it was like for you, what you noticed, and reflect together.

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, 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.