As with any cognitive approach, the objective is to help a student gain new perspectives on the problem by being taught to recognize the negative impact of faulty cognitions and to replace them with more appropriate thought patterns.
The three basic irrational beliefs that some adolescents hold are:
- I must perform well all the time.
- Everyone must treat me well all the time.
- Conditions must be favorable all the time.
Adolescents’ negative and inaccurate automatic thoughts or distorted cognitions fall into five categories:
- perceptions about what events occur (e.g., The teacher doesn’t like me so she asks me lots of questions in class to put me on the spot.),
- attributions about why events occur (e.g., I’m not doing as well as I could because the teacher grades too hard.),
- expectancies or predictions of what will occur (e.g., I’ll never get an A from her.),
- assumptions about the nature of the world and correlations among events (e.g., Adults don’t listen to kids.), or
- beliefs about what “should” be (e.g., I ought to be allowed to drop math if I don’t like it).
To determine whether or not a particular cognition is faulty, ask two questions:
- How valid is the perception/attribution/etc. as a representation of an “objective” reality? For example, if the student reports that s/he is bored because the curriculum is unchallenging, and some investigation finds that the curriculum is, in fact, not suitable, then this is not a faulty perception, even if it is a contributing factor to the student’s underachievement.
- How reasonable is it as a standard or as an explanation for events? For example, if the student reports that nothing less than a perfect grade is acceptable, or that a teacher is “out to get him/her,” one should question the reasonableness of the statement.
Distortion is only evident when the adolescents’ cognitions are inflexible, unattainable, or extreme. The counseling lessons in this module are only needed if the perceptions are inaccurate, not if they are merely negative.
“Pinpointing Nasty Cognitions,” R. W. Westermeyer at <http://www.habitsmart.com/pin.html>