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45. Regarding CBT pt 2

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Good Morning Families, today is Wednesday May 27th, 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.

Today we will be looking a little more closely into Cognitive Behavior Therapy by learning a little about the underlying theory of CBT, which is called, the Cognitive Model.

From the book, “Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Basics and Beyond” written by Judith S. Beck, all these Becks like to use their middle initial in their names, must be a Beck thing. Except for the musician Beck who only goes by the single name Beck. These Beck’s are tricky.

But, from the book, page 3, “In a nutshell, the cognitive model proposes that dysfunctional thinking (which influences the patient’s mood and behavior) is common to all psychological disturbances. When people learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way, they experience improvement in their emotional state and in their behavior.”

How does that connect to our learning community? Well simple, replace the word patient with the word “school”. When school communities learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way, they experience improvement in their emotional state and in their behavior. This can lead to making changes that support greater health and wellbeing for all members. One of the biggest being access to Social Emotional Learning.

Cognitive behavior therapy is based on this hypothesis that people’s emotions, behaviors, and physiology are influenced by their perception of events. On page 30 of the Judith S. Beck book there is a nice model to illustrate: Situation/Event –> Automatic Thought –> Reaction (emotion, physiology, behavior).

Let’s start by looking at the first part of that model labeled situation/event. The amount of control people have over a situation or event can vary widely. Think back to our school assemblies. I spend a lot of time working with students and staff and families so that our school assemblies follow a pattern. We always start with students doing the monthly SEL call and response, then we have a student do the morning announcements, then we have a recap of our SEL theme, then we have singing from Ms. S and a class, then we have our monthly SEL recognitions, then we dismiss, student council stays to clean, dance party, end. All of that process is a form of social management. Social management devices are the ways in which people try to have control over social situations or occurrences. The behavior expectations are social management, where the parents sit is social management, where the students sit, how the students sit, where the staff stand or sit, all of it. However, even with all of the effort for control, there are many, many things that I have no control over. What if the sound doesn’t work? What if a bird flies in the door? What if some students are late and miss the speaking time? So even with highly planned routines and well thought out social management plans, there can be variation. Now consider things we have almost no control over. Weather, corona-virus, what our neighbor chooses to do, you name it. We can and do make social management devices to help us with these things but we can only go as far as the members of the group use self-management to follow the social management devices.

So basically, situations happen, sometimes we have control, sometimes we don’t. The thing that we need to be aware of is what can follow a situation or event, that is what Aaron T. Beck called the automatic thought.

The automatic thought is a thought or emotion information that “pops up” in response to a situation or event. It is called automatic because you didn’t consciously plan to have that thought or emotion information, it just appeared.

When we are talking about using CBT strategies for school, we are talking about helping students, and staff recognize when they are experiencing automatic thoughts and what emotion information those automatic thoughts are carrying. That matters as much for the grown-ups as it does for the kids, and when thinking about the social management of a school or classroom, it might matter even more for the grown-ups.

Sometimes the automatic thoughts carry emotion information that is unpleasant and/or unwanted. It may be high energy as in frustration, unwanted fear (as in your not watching a scary movie for pleasure), or it may be lower energy as in feeling “worn-down” or feeling alienation or feeling unwanted morose.

Now believe it or not, our school learning community could also elevate this work into our school climate by setting up time and space for reflection to try to identify some of the institutional “automatic thinking”. For example, a school community could ask, do we as an institution automatically think a student who displays undesirable behavior is “disrespectful”? Is respect really what is going on? Or, if a student is chronically late or absent, does that mean the family doesn’t value learning? I don’t know, and neither do most schools. That’s the point, you have to check-in with automatic thinking. And because schools are made of people, the people need to make the school culture give space for that level of reflection.

For today, just practice trying to recognize any automatic thoughts. Do this by not changing anything in your behavior today. Just you be you, all day. But, try to recognize any thought or emotion information that may suddenly “pop-up” for you. In fact, one of the very first things that a person does when working on building skills in CBT is to start recognizing their automatic thoughts. If we all do this, and since we’re all a part of our community, it will lead to our community in doing this. And that can really help us all, when we return to physical school.

For more on identifying automatic thoughts, check out this short video from the Beck Institute called “Identifying Automatic Thoughts”.

This has been Bryan J. Manzo and Luca B. Manzo signing off. Until tomorrow, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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