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Cognitive therapy involves assis ...

Posted Mar 03 2009 3:41pm

Cognitive therapy involves assisting people to change their cognitions and in the longer run so does psychodynamic therapy. Part of our role as a therapist doing cognitive therapy is to recognise and to challenge dysfunctional thinking patterns. To do this we need to understand what is dysfunctional and illogical about the client’s thinking patterns

Most courses teaching cognitive behavioural therapy spend a limited amount of time, often only two to three lectures, on this component of cognitive therapy. Rarely if ever do Fallacy2 students come away with an overview of deductive and inductive logic and particularly of logical fallacies. Here is a simple test for yourself: Can you define the difference between inductive and deductive logic? If you got that right then: What is a straw man argument? Not able to answer either of these questions? Maybe it is time for some review.

I have already discussed Socratic questioning as an area that takes considerable practice. This is another area where it takes constant practice to develop one’s skills. Because it is hard work developing these two skills, therapists often give up on continued development and tend to run with a limited number of cognitive distortions they are familiar with. These are often the easier one’s to recognise such as black and white thinking or selective attention. I think it enhances our power as a therapist when we are able to also pick up on the more subtle distortions in client thinking and highlight these gently for the client.

It raises the question for me as to how as a therapist we can enhance a client’s critical thinking and application of deductive logic to their situation if we do not fully understand these concepts ourselves. It adds a further question (the topic of a further post) of what it means if we are not familiar with our own favourite logical fallacies. To develop our ability to recognise logical fallacies involves firstly understanding what each one is and then practice and practice at spotting these.

Here is an excellent site outlining all the major logical fallacies people use in debate or argument either with others or with themselves. Another more in depth site here. Again this is from the critical thinking literature which in my view provides a much better overview than does the cognitive behavioural literature. Robert Leahy has some good stuff in his Cognitive Therapy Techniques but does not go beyond providing a single example of each logical fallacy. The value of the site above is that it provides a clear outline of why each fallacy is not logical and then provides numerous examples to make sense of it.

One of the best places to practice spotting logical fallacies is to listen to politicians. Or you can play spot the fallacy on the famous Monty Python sketch. Once the ability is developed to label the fallacy then the therapist can use this understanding to develop a set of Socratic questioning to help the client understand the fallacy. Simply pointing out the fallacy is rarely helpful to the client. It is a therapist fallacy that by presenting logic and evidence to a client who has not been using this in the past that the client will be immediately convinced.

As important as all this is we need to recognise as cognitive therapists that logic and reason fails to provide good understandings about a lot of what it means to be human. Love, sex death and poetry are just a few that come to mind. Oh and God as well before someone reminds me. The limits of logic are not better put than by Albert Einstein.

Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.

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