By Sarah Edelman Marlowe & Company, 2007 Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Mar 25th 2008
Change Your Thinking is a self-help manual designed to address stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional concerns through the use of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT. The premise of CBT is that the way we think determines the way we feel, with cognitions leading to both emotions and behaviors. Author Sarah Edelman is a psychologist with specific experience in teaching people how to use CBT as a self-help tool. She begins her book by providing a general introduction to CBT, including how it developed and how exactly cognitions affect emotions and behaviors.
At the heart of CBT is the ability to recognize faulty thinking, which is the subject of the second chapter here. Edelman reviews various types of common irrational beliefs, including "should" thinking (e.g., "I should never make mistakes" and "I should always be treated fairly") and awfulizing, otherwise know as catastrophizing. The author also describes the typical thinking errors which were originally identified by Aaron Beck in his ground-breaking book Cognitive Therapy of Depression; these include polarized (black-and-white) thinking, overgeneralizing, personalizing, filtering, jumping to (negative) conclusions, mind reading, blaming, labeling, predicting catastrophe, and comparing. As she does throughout the book, Edelman offers exercises to help readers apply the concepts which she has presented--in this case, identifying both irrational beliefs and faulty thinking patterns in a list of sixteen brief case examples.
After Edelman has coached the reader in becoming adept at increasing awareness of negative thinking patterns, she moves on to the process of disputing negative and irrational beliefs. In CBT, this method is known as the ABCD model. Originally introduced by Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (a cousin to CBT), ABC stands for Antecedent (the activating event triggering a response), Beliefs (our cognitions about the situation), and Consequences (the emotional and behavioral consequences to the situation). D stands for disputing or challenging our negative beliefs. Edelman describes the practice of disputation in detail, which involves using logic, considering positive actions, decatastrophizing, and Socratic questioning. She also discusses behavioral disputing, a method of experimenting with new behaviors as an alternate means of challenging negative beliefs. Finally, Edelman presents goal-directed thinking as a means to interrupt the course of self-defeating cognitions.
Once Edelman has thoroughly reviewed disputation techniques, she begins applying these strategies to various types of concerns. For example, she explains how to use the above method to overcome low frustration tolerance and procrastination, to manage anger, to cope with anxiety and worry, to improve self-esteem, and to recover from depression. The final chapters of the book focus on additional skills to enhance positive outcomes. The first, Taking Charge, presents the problem-solving process and related strategies. Next, Edelman introduces the basics of effective communication, including a review of DOs and DON'Ts that is particularly useful. The closing chapter of the book deals with the more general topic of Being Happy. Here the author discusses factors which associated with happiness, offers a self-assessment exercise, and provides some suggestions for increasing life satisfaction.
Overall, the ideas presented in this book are nothing new; Edelman borrows from the work of various giants in the field of psychology. However, she presents this information in a manner that is extremely accessible to the average reader and that is also appropriate to a self-help format. In addition to providing a manual that is very readable and free of jargon, the author offers her readers a wealth of useful exercises. This allows users both to become more engaged in the self-help process--vital for positive outcomes--and to become proficient in the techniques presented. As a psychologist myself, I believe strongly in the power of addressing negative thinking patterns as an effective approach for many types of concerns, and thus much of my own work is cognitive-behavioral in nature. Given this, I highly recommend Change Your Thinking as a means for the general public to apply these powerful techniques for use on their own.